Lot 3
  • 3

Piero Manzoni

700,000 - 1,000,000 GBP
725,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Piero Manzoni
  • Achrome
  • kaolin on pleated canvas
  • 40 by 60 cm. 15 3/4 by 23 5/8 in.
  • Executed circa 1958.


Galleria Notizie, Turin

Galerie Thelen, Essen

Galerie Franz Dahlem, Darmstadt

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1968


Germano Celant, Piero Manzoni: Catalogo Generale, Milan 1975, p. 150, no. 105 cg, illustrated

Freddy Battino and Luca Palazzoli, Piero Manzoni: Catalogue Raisonné, Milan 1991, p. 290, no. 409, illustrated

Germano Celant, Piero Manzoni: Catalogo Generale, Vol. II, Milan 2004, p. 443, no. 326, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Possessing a central stream of elegantly gathered pleats, Achrome is among the most gorgeous examples of Piero Manzoni’s most iconic series. First initiated in 1957 the Achromes are a tabula rasa, emancipated and emptied of narrative, expression, allegory and allusion. Revered as some of the most radical conceptual gestures of twentieth century art, they sever the painting’s surface from the vicissitudes of artistic biography or style. As Manzoni propounded in 1960: "I am quite unable to understand those painters who, whilst declaring an active interest in modern problems, still continue even today to confront a painting as if it was a surface to be filled with colour and forms...Why shouldn't this surface be freed. Why not seek to discover the unlimited meaning of total space, of pure and absolute light" (Piero Manzoni, 'Free Dimension', in: Azimuth, No. 2, Milan, 1960). In the present work the central band of incandescent highlights and lusciously defining shadows are the ultimate expression of Manzoni's central philosophy, stunningly epitomising the artist's quest to forge a painting technique bereft of representation and contrived gesture.

As beautifully articulated in the present work, finely striated pleats horizontally stretched in sensuous folds across the imposing canvas are the exquisite result of the spontaneous action of kaolin. This material, a soft china clay employed in making porcelain, is not an impasto; it does not require brushing, pouring or physical manipulation as with the 'action' painters of Abstract Expressionism. Rather, Manzoni would first glue the canvas into a seemingly organic arrangement of self-proliferating folds and creases, before the chalky colourless kaolin solution was applied over the top. Even whiter and purer than the canvas ground beneath, the kaolin not only removed the trace of his hand but enhanced the depth and plasticity of the surface undulations. The result was a magnificently rich and chromatically homogenous surface that evoked the powdery fragility of plaster as well as the cold solidity of marble. The absorption and reflection of natural light by the kaolin folds, accentuated by their angular striated ridges, evoke the tactile creases of sculpted Renaissance drapery, while the intricate surface complexity creates dramatic chiaroscuro to seduce our eye, as dark and light are strikingly juxtaposed. 

The quest for "freedom" from narrative content was an agenda shared by a number of Manzoni's contemporaries. Indeed, the Achromes were almost certainly stimulated by the foundational dual-inquiries of Lucio Fontana and Alberto Burri, while the IKB Monochromes executed by his contemporary and friend Yves Klein reflected the artistic impetus beset by Manzoni's milieu. Nonetheless, Manzoni's monochrome strategy was utterly singular and distinctively ground breaking; rather than apply paint to the canvas' surface, the artist focused on the material of the painterly ground itself. By dislocating artistic agency and gesture from the canvas' surface, Manzoni aimed to strip away representation to obtain an entirely self-generated metaphysical image of absolute radical purity.

Manzoni's prescient conceptual approach to making and viewing art anticipated both Conceptualism and Arte Povera, while his artistic legacy, enshrined by iconic works such as the present Achrome, enduringly persists as a revolutionary and insurmountable presence within contemporary art today.