Comprised of a rhythmic flow of kaolin submerged pebbles, Piero Manzoni’s Achrome (1962) is at once hypnotic and captivating; its white façade tightly covers the rectangular picture plane to exquisite effect. Their pulsating pattern exemplifies Manzoni’s last experimentations with everyday materials, as the present work was executed only months before the artist’s untimely death at the beginning of 1963. Mesmerisingly beautiful, Achrome exudes the artistic maturity of Manzoni’s seminal series by the same name, which the artist began in 1957. Together, these works proffered a completely new visual language that, by eliminating traditional materials, denied the aesthetic agency of the artist. By allowing natural drying and fixing processes to dictate the final character and appearance of a work, Manzoni insisted on the autonomy of his materials to dictate their own form. This idea is well illustrated by the present Achrome as a dramatic chiaroscuro amplifies the dynamic energy of the work, bringing an inner liveliness to the surface.
The title Achrome principally signifies an absence of colour; an ascetic choice which Manzoni understood as freeing the composition from superficial distractions. In 1959 he argued that “two harmonizing colours or two tones of the same colour already manifest a relationship that is extraneous to the meaning of the surface, to the unique, limitless, and absolutely dynamic surface. Infinitude is strictly monochrome – or better yet, it has no colour at all” (Piero Manzoni cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, Gagosian, Piero Manzoni: A Retrospective, 2009, p. 200). The white surface of his works then represents the unlimited possibilities of an unimpeded surface, stripped of all content and visual referents. Indeed, rejecting the idea of art as a form of representation or expression, Manzoni never fully completed his Achromes himself but rather left them to dictate their final aesthetic resolution autonomously. This is especially apparent in the present work, for after being covered with pebbles and saturated with kaolin, the surface was left to dry in its own time and manner, thus achieving its final status independent of the artist.
A central figure of the European post-war avant-garde, Manzoni was well connected with some of the most inspiring artists of the time such as Alberto Burri, Yves Klein and Lucio Fontana – all of whom were seeking to redefine spatiality in painting. Unlike Burri and Klein however, Manzoni did not focus on the destructive power of fire, or luminous qualities of colour. The present Achrome shares, nonetheless, the playfulness of Fontana’s Le Pietre series, which used shimmering stones and pebbles to imply the infinity of imaginary spatial paths. Manzoni devoted most of his short but fruitful career to the Achrome series and was constantly working on new technical solutions that would fully convey a complete totality of space. Following the first development of his wrinkled canvases covered in kaolin, Manzoni introduced square cotton wadding to his works in 1960 and implemented bread rolls, faux-fur and insulation among other materials the following year. The present canvas thus constitutes one of Manzoni’s final works in which mundane objects are given an elevated and philosophical new context. With its highly textured surface and the absence of colour and narrative, the present Achrome echoes, perhaps stronger than ever, the resounding impact and critical influence of the artist's most celebrated series of work, a corpus that represents the highest expression of Manzoni’s search for absolute artistic purity.
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