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Piero Manzoni
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Wikipedia About Piero Manzoni

Piero Manzoni (July 13, 1933 – February 6, 1963) was an Italian artist best known for his ironic conceptual art. Influenced by the work of Yves Klein, his own work anticipated, and directly influenced, the work of a generation of younger Italian artists brought together by the critic Germano Celant in the first Arte Povera exhibition held in Genoa, 1967 . Manzoni is most famous for a series of artworks that call into question the nature of the art object, directly prefiguring Conceptual Art . His work eschews normal artist’s materials, instead using everything from rabbit fur to human excrement in order to “tap mythological sources and to realize authentic and universal values” . His work is widely seen as a critique of the mass production and consumerism that was changing Italian society after World War II . Full Wikipedia Article

essay Piero Manzoni, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Piero Manzoni’s brief, incandescent, and boisterous career found a fitting context in the blossoming Italian economic climate of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Though often credited, along with Argentine-born Lucio Fontana, as a forerunner to the Italian Arte Povera movement of the later 1960s, Manzoni was a one-off, unable to be reduced to a single artistic sensibility. His association with Fontana has its origins in Albisola, an Italian seaside resort town renowned for its pottery, where the Milan-based Manzoni family often vacationed. Fontana had been visiting the locale since the 1930s to produce his ceramics and was among the first to notice Manzoni’s earliest works, which included paintings with tar. Yet Manzoni’s career would expand far beyond its parochial beginnings to become part of a rash of global conversations that included the Zero Group in Rotterdam, the international Cobra Group, Marcel Broodthaers, Yves Klein, and the Gutai Group in Japan.1

Often unfairly dismissed as something of a poor man’s Duchamp, Manzoni received at best a luke-warm reception in the United States, where no solo shows were held until almost a decade after his death at the age of twenty-nine. Yet he was well aware of developments across the Atlantic, reproducing Jasper Johns’ Target with Plaster Casts (1955) and Robert Rauschenberg’s Monogram (1959) in the short-lived journal Azimuth, which he coedited with fellow artist Enrico Castellani in 1960.

Neither wholly ironic nor entirely cerebral, Manzoni invented the figure of the artist-trickster, whose acts assume profundity, heresy, and buffoonery all at the same time. As the archetypal artist who says he has nothing to say, his strategy was often to incarnate parts of himself as art—balloons of his breath, fingerprints, and most notoriously, cans of his own feces.2 Yet at the core of his “act” is the body of work he called “Achromes,” which he made throughout his short career.

The Achromes were first manifested around 1958 as things that mimicked white monochrome paintings in a shorthand for knowingly avant-garde or “difficult” art, but also role-played as flagrant targets for ridicule or skepticism. The Walker Art Center’s example from this period, acquired from the Archivio Opera Piero Manzoni in Milan in 1999, is a petrified cummerbund of a painting made of kaolin, a pure clay used to make porcelain.3 Manzoni would go on to make white objects from substances as haphazard as fiberglass, rabbit skin, straw, pebbles, and dinner rolls under the Achromes “brand.” Each one is an operation of blank sorcery whereby commonplace materials are processed into works of art of the utmost reticence. Manzoni’s invention of the Achromes mischievously trumps the hermeneutics of monochrome painting by changing the rules to his own form of mysticism. Not merely one color, but achromatic, the Achrome defies common sense and instead incarnates pure substance and materiality at the sheer insistence of the artist.

  1. Manzoni had contacts in Japan as early as 1959, including Yamazaki Shozo, editor of Geijutsu Shincho, a journal that had published the manifesto of the Gutai Group in 1956 and would trade articles with Manzoni’s Azimuth. See Anna Costantini’s text in Germano Celant, ed., Piero Manzoni, exh. cat. (London: Serpentine Gallery; Milan: Edizioni Charta, 1998).

  2. As Manzoni wrote, “There is nothing to be said. There is only to be, there is only to live.” See his “Free Dimension” (1960), reprinted in Celant, Piero Manzoni, 130–134.

  3. Manzoni may have discovered this material in the ceramic workshops of Albisola.

Andrews, Max. “Piero Manzoni.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center