- Piero Manzoni
- kaolin on pleated canvas
- 40 by 60 cm. 15 3/4 by 23 5/8 in.
- Executed circa 1958.
Galerie Thelen, Essen
Galerie Franz Dahlem, Darmstadt
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1968
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
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.