Agostino Bonalumi: The Glass of Shadows

Agostino Bonalumi, Untitled (Rosso), 2011. Acrylic on canvas, 130 x 220 cm. Image: Courtesy of Vedovi Gallery.

When Lucio Fontana published his Spazialismo series in the 1940s, a fundamental reiteration of this theory was that matter should be transformed into energy to invade space in a dynamic form. In essence, only the conceptually abstract offered the freedom within linear space to explore ideas about movement and time in art. Fontana’s slash series went on to demonstrate this idea, where linear slashes and the sharp holes were made through the sacrosanct surfaces of the canvas. The tears and holes in the canvas are as much philosophical as they are destructive physical rends on the material, meant to force the viewer’s gaze beyond the surface planes of the painting into an opening that Fontana termed ‘free space’ that existed without boundaries.

Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, 1960, and Attese, 1966. Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milan. Image: Courtesy of the Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milan and Gagosian Gallery.

Heavily influenced by Fontana’s concept of Spazialismo, the modulated surfaces (superficies moduladas) within Agostino Bonalumi’s (b. 1935) canvases situate themselves within this conceptual discourse of demolishing the illusionistic plane to create new pictorial forms. Bonalumi’s oeuvre, now on view at Partners & Mucciaccia in a retrospective exhibition called The Glass of Shadows, is dedicated to demonstrating that the dimensions of a canvas can consist of a dynamic blend of form, colour, shadow, light and strategically-conceived space.

Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio, 1963. Oil on canvas, 70-1/8 x 48-3/8 inches. © Fondazione Lucio Fontana. Image: Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery. Private Collection. Photography by Robert McKeever.

But unlike Fontana’s punctures on the canvas that attempt to access metaphysical space behind the picture, Bonalumi confines himself to the physical limitations of the frame. His works – which he called ‘estroflessioni’, or picture-objects – articulate perceptual, repeated patterns, or flat surfaces that are interrupted by undulating, three-dimensional bulges and convex renderings that are a result of stretcher bars with specially-made relief elements pushing against the back of a taut canvas.

Agostino Bonalumi, Untitled (Bianco), 2011. Acrylic on canvas, 120 x 190 cm. Image: Courtesy of Vedovi Gallery.

Recalling in addition, Enrico Castellani’s varied configurations of relief objects that are predicated on the dichotomous interplay between light and shadow, Bonalumi’s geometric shapes and grids arch or curve towards the viewer. Their penumbras are found at the edges or at the sides of each contour, becoming starkly visible only under certain lighting conditions to yield a shadow-play effect that both shrouds and illuminates. Consequently, by operating through the specific incidence of light, Bonalumi’s three-dimensional forms that take shape within the bounds of the canvas reside in the discursive slippage between painting, installation and minimalist sculpture, his self-referential (and ultimately reductive) protrusions exist almost like actualities in space. Yet, if contextual and physical relation to space is of particular importance to sculpture and installation works, Bonalumi’s canvas abrogate rather than assert this notion, confining audience interaction and interpretation – just like his work-process – to the limitations of the frame.


Agostino Bonalumi was born on July 10, 1935, in Vimercate, Milan and studied technical and mechanical design at the Instituto Tecnico Industriale. Between 1957 and 1958, Bonalumi frequented Enrico Baj’s studio in Milan, where he met Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani.

The Glass of Shadows will be on show at Partners & Mucciaccia at the Gillman Barracks until 24 February 2013 and is a retrospective of Bonalumi’s oeuvre of works.