This pierced "yellow egg" by Lucio Fontana could fetch US$20m in New York in May

"Enough with the bourgeois function of art. Open the doors," proclaimed the Argentine-Italian artist Lucio Fontana in the post-war age. 

While Fontana might be best known for literally "opening" the canvas with a single slash, at the apex of his art is a group of viscerally pierced "eggs" known as Concetto Spaziale, La fine di Dio (Spatial Concepts, The End of God), executed in the space age, when humankind embarked on a journey to explore the unknown.

Today, these avant-garde, densely pierced ovoid canvases are among the most coveted works the artist created, setting all six of the artist's top prices at auction. 

In the upcoming New York sale week, a standout from the era-defining series, painted in yolk color, will hit the auction block at Sotheby's with an estimate between US$20 and 30 million, making it one of the most valuable works by Fontana ever to appear on the market – and it is being offered without a guarantee.

The work came from the collection of Dallas arts patrons Cindy and Howard Rachofsky, who purchased it for a record-setting price in 2003 at Sotheby's New York. Ahead of its auction, the work will go on view in Sotheby’s preview exhibitions in New York from 2 to 15 May.  

Lucio Fontana (1899-1968) | Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio, Oil on canvas
Executed in 1964 
177.8 x 123 cm
Provenance (Consolidated by The Value based on known information):

  • Sotheby's, New York, 25 June 2003, Lot 15
  • The Rachofsky Collection, Dallas (acquired from the above)

Estimate: US$20,000,000 - 30,000,000

Of the thirty-eight monumental paintings that make up this series, Concetto Spaziale, La fine de Dio is one of only four Fontana created in cadmium yellow, with the other three housed in private collections around the world.

The last time a La fine de Dio hit the auction block was in 2015, when another canvas of the same color, sold by billionaire money manager Steven A. Cohen, set the artist’s current auction record of US$29.2 million at Christie’s New York. 

Only two more pieces from the series have appeared in the auction market since then, with the most recent one in 2023. That white canvas fetched US$20.6 million at Sotheby's New York, ranking as the sixth-most expensive work by Fontona to ever sell at auction. 

Befitting their importance, other La Fine de Dio works are mostly held in prestigious museum collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; and Centre Pompidou, Paris.

Lucio Fontana | Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio (1964) | Sold: US$29,173,000, Christie's New York, 2015 (Auction record for the artist)

Lucio Fontana | Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio (1963) | Sold: US$20,556,900, Sotheby's New York, 2023

Lucio Fontana | Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio (1963) | Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid

"I do not want to make a painting; I want to open up space, create a new dimension, tie in the cosmos," Fontana once said. 

Motivated by the explosive scientific and philosophical development in the post-war era, in the 1940s the forward-thinking artist published the Manifesto Blanco, in which he advocated for arts to align with other intellectual pursuits of the time and called upon artists to understand themselves as scientists to break through the spatial qualities of "traditional 'static' art forms". 

His sculptor background ultimately proved vital in exploring the spatial confines beyond the traditional canvas, as he began creating groundbreaking three-dimensional paintings with two essential interventions to the canvas: the tagli, cuts, and the bucchi, holes. 

To the artist, those were not acts of destruction but discovery, a discovery of an unknown cosmos. As he explains, "Einstein’s discovery of the cosmos is the infinite dimension, without end. And so here we have: foreground, middleground, and background.. to go farther what do I have to do?… I make holes, infinity passes through them, light passes through them, there is no need to paint."

Lucio Fontana photographed with Concetto Spaziale, La fine di Dio in his studio in Milan circa 1965

Lucio Fontana slashing the canvas

Epitomizing the visionary spirit of the time, these egg-shaped canvases were executed for three major exhibitions of the artist's work in Zurich, Milan, and Paris between 1963 and 1964. 

The 1960s witnessed major scientific discoveries and developments around the world, most notably surrounding space travel, a subject that completely fascinated the 63-year-old Fontana.

Just two years before Fontana began the La fine di Dio series, the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth for the first time, and the US publicly proclaimed their goal to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. 

With outer space on his mind, Fontana sought to explore some of the broad notions raised by these discoveries in his art. For him, the irregular holes and punctures across the canvas – which evokes a sort of lunar surface – opened portals through which the viewer could access a new concept of space befitting the age of astronauts, while the egg was a potent symbol for a new life and a new universe.

Details of the present lot

Their rather shocking title, proclaiming the end of God, echoes the famous Friedrich Nietzsche, who in 1882 famously stated "God is dead" in the face of the era's enlightenment. 

In a similar thought process, the artist, having been raised in the predominately Catholic nations of Italy and Argentina, foresaw the end of a worldview based on purely earthly belief systems, practices, and traditions and presented a conception of the divine retooled for the contemporary age.

Interestingly, before solidifying the title for the series, the artist consulted a priest, who "confirmed that the Bible speaks of the Infinite, Invisible, and Non-Definable in relation to God." Reassured, Fontana went forward with his depiction of the divine as a universal, generative void in which human beings could lose themselves.

Of the entire series, the present Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio was considered one of the most accomplished, having been a highlight of the artist’s retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2019. It was acquired by Cindy and Howard Rachofsky in 2003 for a then artist's auction record of US$2.3 million at Sotheby's New York – a purchase that marked a pivotal moment in the couple's collecting journey. 

The present lot was a highlight of the Lucio Fontana: On the Threshold exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2019

"The most visible manifestation of affluence is what’s hanging on your walls," says Howard Rachofsky, who made his fortune through stock trading.

In the years prior, they were looking to build a collection with a particular personality, one that speaks a narrative different from that of other American collections. For them, this meant looking outside the United States and toward significant international art movements that had not yet received widespread global recognition: from Arte Povera in Italy to the Gutai movement in Japan, to the Korean Dansaekhwa.

With Fontana being central to the history of post-war Italian art, sourcing a masterpiece by the artist became something of a pursuit: looking for an example of this caliber and condition took years.

In the late 1990s, the Rachofskys had already acquired a pink Fine di Dio in Switzerland for around US$700,000 but when the present lot came up at Sotheby's, they found it "as close to perfect as one could be" and so went to great lengths to pursue it. And the acquisition brought their collection to a higher level of ambition and raised the bar for future buying. 

Cindy and Howard Rachofsky

The Rachofskys' "affluence" – a trove of roughly 800 works of contemporary art – is hung on the walls of The Warehouse,  a state-of-the-art space they established with fellow collector Vernon Faulconer. 

What's not there might very well be found in The Rachosfky House, the couple's private residence in Dallas. While the space has been closed to the public since 2013, it still welcomes a bunch of dazzling guests every year for TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art – an annual charity auction benefiting the Dallas Museum of Art and amfAR, a foundation for AIDS research. 

In 2005, the Rachofskys made a promised testamentary pledge of their collection to the museum. One feature of the agreement is that it allows the collection to be shaped during the couple's lifetimes, enabling them to acquire and deaccession works as they see fit, in close collaboration with the museum. 

And this is how the museum viewed this deaccessioning: a "dynamic gift." According to Sotheby's, this sale will "enable them to continue making important acquisitions, further evolving the collection in ways which will continue to benefit the Dallas Museum of Art."