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Piero Manzoni (Italian, 1933–1963)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

Italian painter and conceptual artist. He was self-taught as an artist. Shortly after he began painting he started to question the traditional aims and methods of the artist, expressing the nature of his searching in both writings and the objects that he produced. With Ettore Sordini (b 1934), Camillo Corvi-Morra and Giuseppe Zecca he co-edited the manifesto Per la scoperta di una zona di immagini (Milan, 1956). A manifesto with the same title written by Manzoni alone appeared almost immediately afterwards (1956–7). In his text he stressed the relationship between artistic expression and the collective unconscious, arguing that through extreme self-awareness the artist is able to tap mythological sources and to realize authentic and universal values; the canvas should remain an area of freedom in which the artist may go in search of primal images.

Around 1957 Manzoni began the Achromes series. Some were executed in raw gesso that had been scratched and scored, and others, for example Achrome (1959; Paris, Pompidou), consisted of cut or pleated canvas and kaolin. Although Manzoni had discovered the work of Yves Klein in early 1957 and apparently had been profoundly impressed, his own Achromes signify something different from Klein’s monochromatic works: the desire to create a space devoid of any image of colour, mark or material.

In early 1958 Manzoni began to call into question the nature of the art object in works that prefigured Conceptual Art. In April he packaged his first precisely measured Line in a cardboard tube, a theme that he continued to evolve, for example Line 1000 m Long (1961; New York, MOMA). Also in spring 1958 he began signing his name on living people and issuing them with certificates of authenticity (see 1971 exh. cat., pl. 99). He did not, however, exhibit his living sculptures until 1961. In 1958 he also began producing do-it-yourself pneumatic sculptures, each of which consisted of a balloon and a tripod packed in a wooden case. The purchaser was free to inflate the balloon himself; however, should he wish Manzoni to do the job, he would have to pay for the artist’s breath.

Towards the end of 1959, with Vincenzo Agnetti (1926–81) and Enrico Castellani, Manzoni published Azimut, a magazine that set itself in opposition to the established organ of the Milanese avant-garde, Il Gesto. Soon afterwards, Manzoni and Castellani opened Galleria Azimut, which featured the work of Manzoni at its inauguration and on several other occasions during the short span of its existence, including an event in summer 1960 for which the public was invited to ‘collaborate directly’ in the consumption of the artist’s work; during the 70 minutes that the exhibition lasted, Manzoni made hard-boiled eggs, signed them with his thumb print and distributed them to gallery visitors.

During the last years of his life Manzoni continued producing Achromes using a vast range of new materials: wads of cotton, canvas or cotton chemically treated so that changes in temperature would alter the colour, dinner rolls sealed in plastic and covered with kaolin, waste paper, stones and other materials . During this period he realized his most monumental work, Socle of the World (1961), an iron block that was installed in the sculpture park at the Angligården, Herning, Denmark, and supposedly served as the ‘base of the world’.

Laural Weintraub
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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