Revisiting The Art — And Argentine Origins — Of Lucio Fontana

A current exhibition at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires isn't just about remembering a great 20th-century artist. It's about reclaiming him as a national treasure.

Argentina's National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires is housing a special exhibition on the work of Fontana
Argentina's National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires is housing a special exhibition on the work of Fontana
Julia Villaro

BUENOS AIRES –– Lucio Fontana isn't all that well known in Argentina despite being Argentine, which is itself a little-known fact. The late great 20th-century artist is generally cited as being Italian, where he did much of his work.

Still, Argentina has every right to claim Fontana as its own. The innovator who anticipated installation art was born in Rosario in 1899, moved to Italy shortly thereafter, but returned to Argentina while still just a boy, remaining here throughout his childhood. He also lived in Argentina for stints as an adult.

Decades later, Argentina's National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires (MNBA) is housing a special exhibition on the work of Fontana, a leading proponent of the Arte Povera movement that focused on making art with ordinary objects. The show opened April 28 and runs until July 30.

Fontana's best known works are perhaps the ripped canvases or "slash series' (tagli) that illustrated his bid to break with dominant art cannons and de-emphasize the art object in favor of its space. The space in question here and in the earlier "holes series' (buchi), in which canvases were punctured, is just behind or "inside" the canvas. The MNBA exhibition also emphasizes Fontana place as an Argentine artist, as a product of specific Argentine influences. In that sense, the show invites the public to explore the idea that "no one is a prophet in his own land," as the saying goes.

"He was a diverse artist," says Andrés Dupra, the director of the MNBA and co-curator of the show alongside Fernando Farina. The exhibition contains pieces from the MNBA's own Fontana collection along with items gathered from various museums throughout the country. They include plaster and bronze busts from his early years, and little clay figures perhaps similar to those Fontana frequently destroyed with his hands before pupils in the avant-guard Altamira school, which he co-founded in Buenos Aires in 1946.

"These figurative works correspond to a period when Fontana had won some recognition locally," Fernando Farina explains. "In addition to the Grand Prize of the Salón Nacional, he won many provincial prizes. As such, several of his works entered public collections in the provinces."

Most of these works date back to the 1940s, when the artist returned to settle in Argentina after a decade in Italy. That was also when he collaborated on the so-called "White Manifesto," which was signed by his pupils but is universally accepted as being conceived by Fontana. The manifesto became the cornerstone of a vast production of texts in which the artist would express his tradition-breaking ideas. A fragment of the original text is included in the MNBA show.

"Fontana is a very curious artist," says Farina. "He had a very important trajectory. He developed his main ideas in Argentina, connected himself with avant guard groups and yet, is not given prominence in Argentina. We haven't appropriated him, strangely. If you go to the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid, you'll see an entire room devoted to his work."

In the late 1940s, after several years in Buenos Aires, Fontana returned to in Italy where he began developing his "spatial concepts' (concetti spaziali), which explore various means of opening up, literally, space in his works. First he perforated the surface of canvases, while showing the stained or untouched backside of what should have been a picture. Then he began cutting finely-drawn slash lines, which in contrast with his perforations leave the canvas unperturbed, without signs of violence. With these lines the artist was cutting a path away from the artistic dichotomies imposed in the first half of the 20th century.

Fontana always remained close to Argentina and certain letters indicate the importance he gave to his years in Rosario. By the time of his death, in 1968, his work had featured in some of the world's most important exhibitions, including the Bienal de Sao Paulo, in Brazil. Declining health prevented him attending another important exhibition of his works at the Instituto Di Tella in Buenos Aires.

"That may have been final break that made us lose him," says Farina. Now, nearly 50 years after Fontana's death, maybe there's a change for Argentina to get its prodigal son back.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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