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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Piero Manzoni
1933 - 1963
ACHROME
signed and dated ’61 on the stretcher 
sewn cloth and kaolin
150 by 100 cm. 59 by 39 1/4 in.
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Provenance

The Artist
Countess Valeria Manzoni di Chiosca, Milan (the artist's mother) 
Private Collection, Italy (thence by descent from the above) 
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2000

Exhibited

Zagreb, Galerija suvremene umjetnosti, Nove Tendencije, August - September 1961, n.p., no. 41, illustrated (incorrect orientation)
London, Tate Gallery, Piero Manzoni: Paintings, Reliefs and Objects, March - May 1974, no. 74
Milan, Galleria Blu, Piero Manzoni. Essere in tutti i Sensi, April - July 1988
Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Herning, Herning Kunstmuseum; Madrid, La Fundación “La Caixa”, Piero Manzoni, March - December 1991, p. 135, no. 65, illustrated 
Turin, Castello di Rivoli - Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Piero Manzoni, February - March 1992, p. 135, no. 65, illustrated
London, Serpentine Gallery, Piero Manzoni, February - April 1998, p. 187, illustrated in colour
Naples, Madre: Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, Piero Manzoni, May - September 2007, p. 266, no. 292, illustrated in colour
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Piero Manzoni: A Retrospective, January - March 2009, p. 253, no. 273, illustrated in colour
Riva del Garda, MAG: Museo Alto Garda, Oltre il confine della tela: Fontana, Burri, Manzoni, Dadamaino, Bonalumi, Scheggi, July - November 2015
London, Mazzoleni Art, Piero Manzoni Achromes: Linea Infinita, February - April 2016, p. 60, illustrated in colour

Literature

Germano Celant, Piero Manzoni: Catalogo Generale, Milan 1975, p. 208, no. 16 flc, illustrated
Exh. Cat., Soncino, Rocca Sforzesca, La base del mondo, oltre. Omaggio a Piero Manzoni: materiali e proposte per un’arte di domani, October 1986, p. 22, illustrated (incorrect orientation) 
Freddy Battino, L’impronta Blu. 1957-1987, Milan 1987, p. 72, no. 6, illustrated
Freddy Battino and Luca Palazzoli, Piero Manzoni: Catalogue Raisonné, Milan 1991, p. 345, no. 620 BM, illustrated
Germano Celant, Piero Manzoni: Catalogo Generale, Vol. I & II, Milan 2004, p. 279 (Vol I) and p. 519 (Vol II), no. 858, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

“There is nothing to be said: There is only to be, to live.”

Piero Manzoni cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery, Piero Manzoni: Paintings, Reliefs and Objects, March - May 1974, p. 47

Richly balanced, pure and absolute, Piero Manzoni’s elegant Achrome of 1961 presents an exemplary archetype of the artist’s desire to free the surface of painting by employing only the most primary of materials. Here Manzoni’s singular use of kaolin and cloth transcends the painterly gesture inherent to traditional post-war artistic production, refining the work to its most untouched, raw materiality. Indeed, Achrome is a testament to the artist’s own venerable words: “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. Images which are as absolute as possible, which cannot be valued for that which they record, explain, and express, but only for that which they are: to be” (Piero Manzoni cited in: For the Discovery of a Zone of Images, Milan 1957, n.p.). The serene expanse of the present work is interrupted by a single exquisite sculptural fold; Achrome thus eloquently achieves Manzoni’s utmost goal in manifesting a self-generated image of sheer purity. Piero Manzoni is, without doubt, one of the most revolutionary avant-garde artists of the immediate post-war period, and fittingly, the present work has been widely exhibited at the most esteemed international institutions over the course of its being, including the Tate Gallery, London (1974); Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris (1991-92); Castello di Rivoli, Turin (1992); and the Serpentine Gallery, London (1998).

The present work is part of Manzoni’s most celebrated body of canvases, which he pursued until his premature death in 1963. The Achromes sought to render a compositional surface entirely porcelain white – intrinsically colourless and neutral. The artist himself asserts, “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 cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Serpentine Gallery, Piero Manzoni, 1998, p. 27). The structural ivory-coloured surfaces of the Achromes represent an ideological break from conventional art-making processes, for the works themselves are defined by the materials from which they are made.

Spanning the 1950s and 1960s, Manzoni’s oeuvre was profoundly informed by the trauma and political events of the Second World War. In 1943 the Fascist regime collapsed in Italy, and when the war ended in 1945, artists and intellectuals alike sensed that modern art could not remain unchanged. To quote art historian and curator Germano Celant, Manzoni was “overwhelmed by the rubble of history, since all possible configurations of thought and perception had been dissolved, and all that survived was fragmentary and irreparable, with the sole exception of being there as an awareness of finitude” (Germano Celant cited in: Exh. Cat., Naples, MADRE: Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, Piero Manzoni, 2007, p. 19). Indeed, Manzoni was part of a generation of post-war artists that sought to usurp tradition by liberating the painted surface. American artists such as Robert Ryman turned to minimalism and conceptual art, while Italian artists Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana sought to alter the surface of a canvas through destruction. Where Burri employed fire and sulphur to burn and melt his chosen media, Fontana pierced the canvas with a knife to access the quasi-mystical dimensions beyond the surface. Manzoni, like Ryman after him, identified with the school of monochrome painting, which privileged a combination of paired-back minimalism and pure concept art, yet his technique differed greatly from his American and Italian contemporaries in his desire to immobilise materials through the drying and fixing process. Throughout the Achrome series, the drying of plaster and kaolin on canvas gives shape to the work’s inner-most energy, in turn providing a ‘virgin’ space of artistic expression.

Manzoni began the series of Achromes in 1958, one year after he visited the first public exhibition of Yves Klein’s work at Galleria Apollinaire in Milan. The exhibition consisted of eleven monochrome paintings in Klein’s now ground-breaking and widely celebrated hue of ultramarine blue. Evidently impressed by the French artist’s work, Manzoni introduced himself to Klein in 1961, the very year Achrome was executed, and asserted to Klein, “You are the monochrome blue and I am the monochrome white, we must work together” (Piero Manzoni cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery, Piero Manzoni: Paintings, Reliefs and Objects, 1974, p. 12). While Manzoni and Klein never collaborated, their oeuvres are inextricably linked; both artists sought to undermine traditional painterly processes by omitting gesture and form from the surface of the canvas, and by relegating image in favour of the sublimity of colour – or in the case of Manzoni’s Achromes – a lack of colour.

Achrome exquisitely gives shape to an intrinsic vitality, which at its central core, “unfolds and refolds, invents its own laws and creates a fluidity of thought…” (Germano Celant cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Serpentine Gallery, op. cit., p. 28). On the surface of the present work total space is laid bare, a space in which form, colour and dimension have no meaning. By dislocating artistic agency and gesture from the canvas surface, Achrome thus magnificently reveals Manzoni’s achievement of total compositional freedom, in which material becomes pure energy. 

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London