Abstraction and references must be totally avoided. In our freedom of invention we must succeed in constructing a world that can be measured only in its own terms. We absolutely cannot consider the picture as a space onto which to project our mental scenography. It is the area of freedom in which we search for the discovery of our first images.–Piero Manzoni, 1957
In 1957 Piero Manzoni–a self-taught artist working in Milan–began a series of mono-chromatic paintings he called “Achromes.” Some were executed in gesso that had been scratched and scored, and others, such as this one, consisted of cut or pleated canvas and a pure clay often used for porcelain called kaolin. Manzoni’s use of kaolin was linked with his desire to liberate the fixed nature of the medium of paint by altering its drying and fixing process. Although he had been profoundly influenced by the monochromatic works of fellow Nouveau Réaliste Yves Klein, the surfaces of his own Achromes marked a distinct departure: the desire to create a space devoid of any image, color, mark, or material. He continued to produce Achromes up until the last years of his life, using a vast range of materials, including wads of cotton, canvas or cotton, dinner rolls sealed in plastic and covered with kaolin, waste paper, and stones.
Manzoni’s paintings are celebrated today for embodying the climate of radical postwar artistic practices. He is widely considered to be one of the most important Italian artists of his generation and a forerunner of the Italian Arte Povera movement in his use of everyday materials. He has been associated with Spazialismo (a movement founded by Lucio Fontana, whose work is on view in this gallery) and the group Zero, because of those artists’ shared interest in redefining the boundaries of the picture plane.