PROPERTY OF PATRICIA PHELPS DE CISNEROS, SOLD TO BENEFIT THE LATIN AMERICAN INITIATIVES OF THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK
“Living with the yearning for the infinite, which one cannot reach.” (Piero Manzoni, Diario, edited by Gaspare Luigi Marcone, Milan 2013, p. 165). This statement is perfectly encapsulated by Piero Manzoni in his most celebrated series, the Achromes; masterpieces of purity and elegance that form the crux of Manzoni’s artistic output. The present work, dating from 1959, represents the zenith of Manzoni’s tragically short career and is an exemplary work from his Achrome series. Prior to its creation Manzoni participated in a group show that demonstrated the generational bridge from Lucio Fontana to Enrico Baj through to Manzoni, held in Bologna in 1958. In this exhibition Manzoni exhibited some works that were at the time known only as ‘white works’. The following year, on the occasion of his solo show in Milan, Manzoni renamed his white works Superficie Acroma (Achrome Surface) and from this moment onwards, these works would be known as Achromes.
Initially conceived in 1957, the Achrome series was described by Manzoni as a totally colourless canvas onto which no existentialist doubts, political nor personal questions were represented. The pure white of the canvas was used to embody an art of continuity rather than an art of absence. Echoing the artistic practices of many of his contemporaries, Manzoni sought to create an autonomous work of art, devoid of figuration and literal representation. He began this pursuit with an attempt to reduce the interaction between the artist and the work, by soaking his canvases in kaolin and leaving them out to dry in the sun. The process allowed the fabric and the substance to combine, resulting in a composition untouched by the artist’s hands and further affirming Manzoni’s artistic concerns that the being is inherent in the work and that the work is a living, dynamic and infinite essence.
By 1959 Manzoni’s practice had further developed and he began to experiment with other variations on the Achrome. Initially these were made in sewn canvas like the current lot, however, later Manzoni would go on to experiment with a plethora of different materials; including straw, polystyrene, bread rolls, gravel, felt and wool. The expansion of the Achrome into different forms and mediums developed a concept of the ‘infinite’ that Manzoni was attempting to convey and it was at this point in time that Manzoni’s oeuvre began to fully mature. In 1960 he wrote, “The artist has achieved integral freedom; pure material becomes pure energy; all problems of artistic criticism are surmounted; everything is permitted” (Piero Manzoni, ‘Free Dimension’, Op. Cit.).
In tune with the artistic movements that took place in Italy as well as in other countries around the world, Manzoni interiorized the lessons of his forefathers as well as utterly breaking with the aesthetic concepts of contemporary art that had come before. He drew upon concepts of monochromatic painting, the autonomous artwork and the manipulation of the canvas itself that were being explored by many of his contemporaries, such as Fontana, Enrico Castellani, Yves Klein, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. For Manzoni the canvas was an area of freedom, where each person could discover the absolute present. The current lot, with its delicately proportioned grid, places the viewer in front of a pure example of beauty through its precise, harmonious surface. As the curator Jon Thompson elucidated, “the Achrome are material tautologies; they refer only to themselves as reiterations of their own composition” (Jon Thompson, “Piero Manzoni: Out of Time and Place” in Exh. Cat., London, Serpentine Gallery, Piero Manzoni, 1998, p. 43).
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