Freddy Battino and Luca Palazzoli, Piero Manzoni: Catalogue Raisonné, Milan 1991, p. 422, no. 888 BM, illustrated
Germano Celant, Piero Manzoni: Catalogo Generale, Vol. I & II, Milan 2004, p. 364 (Vol. I) and p. 545 (Vol. II), no. 1027, illustrated
Exh. Cat., Naples, Madre Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, Piero Manzoni, May - September 2007, p. 342, no. 401, illustrated in colour
Piero Manzoni, ‘Free Dimension’, in: Azimuth, No. 2, 1960, n.p.
A mesmeric whiteness ebbs and flows over the unsteady surface of Piero Manzoni’s Achrome, circa 1962. The work comes from a series of paintings by the same name, initiated by the artist in 1957 and characterised by a monochromatic expanse of whiteness and highly textured surfaces that are entirely absent of both colour and narrative. Noted for his departure from traditional materials, Manzoni experimented with a plethora of unconventional, quotidian and, at times, controversial objects, ranging from straw, polystyrene and bread rolls, to rabbit fur, gravel and even human excrement. Working in an era dominated by Abstract Expressionism and Art Informel, Manzoni sought to dislocate the painted surface from the hand of the artist, envisaging instead a pictorial language befitting of his contemporary moment. “It is not a question of shaping things, nor of articulating messages,” he asserted in 1960, “For are not fantasising, abstraction and self-expression empty fictions? There is nothing to be said: there is only to be, to live” (Piero Manzoni cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Serpentine Gallery, Piero Manzoni, 1998, p. 134).
A cacophony of form protrudes from the present work and the eye is drawn in by the pulsating rhythm of its pictorial plane. Its compositional irregularity and rough, uneven exterior creates a compelling interplay of light and shadow which flits across its façade like an electric charge. Manzoni created this painting by saturating pebbles in liquid kaolin (china clay), before leaving them to dry. Such a self-determining process enabled Manzoni to distance his own subjectivity from the final product, fabricating a work devoid of either brushstroke or personal mark; devoid too of representation or symbolic significance. Born in Soncino, Italy, in 1933, Manzoni’s brief yet illustrious career was tragically cut short by his premature death in 1963. Widely seen to have anticipated the birth of Conceptual art, Manzoni was to influence a generation of younger artists from Jannis Kournellis to Maurizio Cattelan through his radical corpus of work. Marked by an ironic approach to avant-garde art, his Achromes playfully allude to Italy’s economic boom after the Second World War, with its soaring demand for mass production and burgeoning consumer culture. By employing a technique of monochrome abstraction, as exemplified by the stark white seriality of the present work, Manzoni paved the way for a visual syntax which emphasised surface, repetition and materiality over depth, singularity and meaning. In both title and composition, Achrome self-reflexively constitutes a metaphysical blank that points to nothing beyond its own immediate existence.
Striving to challenge, reassess and re-evaluate the individuality of the artist in a post-war world, Manzoni founded the pioneering art journal ‘Azimuth’ in Milan in 1959, alongside his contemporary Enrico Castellani. Propagating an elemental art based solely on the concepts of light, space and time, the two artists looked not to illusory representation but rather to a tautological and physical presence. Concerned with neither the metaphorical nor the figurative world, Manzoni looked to embody within his art what he termed “A white that is not a polar landscape, not a material in evolution or a beautiful material, not a sensation or a symbol or anything else: just a white surface that is simply a white surface and nothing else (a colourless surface that is just a colourless surface). Better than that: a surface that simply is: to be (to be complete and become pure)” (Piero Manzoni, ibid., p. 27). Certainly, in Achrome’s undulating and hypnotic surface, this raw and primal purity is majestically achieved.
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