Manzoni Lot 28 PWC Evening
Piero Manzoni (1933-1963)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Piero Manzoni (1933-1963)


Piero Manzoni (1933-1963)
gesso and grit on canvas
27 7/8 x 20 1/8in. (71 x 51cm.)
Executed in 1957-1958
Galleria Schettini, Milan.
Private Collection, Milan (acquired from the above in 1968).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
G. Celant, Piero Manzoni. Catalogo Generale, Milan 1975, no. 10gg (illustrated, p. 105).
F. Battino and L. Palazzoli, Piero Manzoni. Catalogue Raisonné, Milan 1991, no. 277 BM (illustrated, p. 255).
G. Celant, Piero Manzoni. Catalogo Generale, Vol. I, Milan 2004 (illustrated in colour, p. 53); Vol. II, Milan 2004, no. 142 (illustrated, p. 415).
G. Celant (ed)., Piero Manzoni, exh. cat, MADRE Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, Naples, 2007, p. 386, no.44 (illustrated in colour, p. 131).
G. Celant (ed)., Piero Manzoni: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2009, p. 337, no. 55 (illustrated in colour, p. 27).
G. Celant, Su Piero Manzoni, Milan 2014, no. 155 (illustrated, p. 13).
London, Tate Gallery, Piero Manzoni. Paintings, reliefs and objects, 1974, no. 30, p. 94 (illustrated, fig. 5, p. 20).
Milan, Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea, Azimuth e Azimut, 1985, no. 55 (illustrated, fig. 28).
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Piero Manzoni. Milano et Mitologia, 1997, no. 19, pp. 97-98 (illustrated, fig. 19, p. 60).
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Katharine Arnold
Katharine Arnold

Lot Essay

‘Why shouldn’t this receptacle be emptied? Why shouldn’t this surface be freed? Why not seek to discover the unlimited meaning of total space, of pure and absolute light?’ —P. MANZONI

Piero Manzoni’s Achrome is among the first of a radical, experimental series of works of the same name, with which the artist fundamentally expanded and redefined the concept of painting. Executed between 1957 and 1958, this Achrome is the first work of its type to be listed in Germano Celant’s Catalogo Generale of the artist, serving as a visual embodiment of the initial genesis of the artist’s breakthrough and career defining series. First titled La nevicata (The snowfall), a reflection of the gently textured, pure white surface of the plaster, this work has a unique poeticism and is one of the most lyrical works of its type. A testament to its importance within the artist’s oeuvre, Achrome was included in the one-man exhibition of the artist held at the Tate Gallery, London in 1974, the first major display of the artist’s work in the capital. With the Achromes, Manzoni found the perfect solution to his quest to return art to a primal, virgin state, completely expunging the presence of the artist and thereby transforming a painting into a single, self-defining and self-referential entity. In this way, Manzoni radically redefined the possibilities of painting: the canvas was now an empty receptacle, liberated from representation, narrative and the ego of the artist, waiting instead to be activated by the mind of the viewer. ‘The picture is our idea of freedom’, Manzoni wrote in 1957, just before he executed the present work, ‘in its space we set out on a journey of discovery and creation of images’ (Manzoni, ‘For the Discovery of a Zone of Images’, quoted in M. Gale & R. Miracco, exh. cat., Beyond Painting: Burri. Fontana, Manzoni, London, 2005-2006, p. 40).

Composed simply of white plaster, the present Achrome was the first iteration of what would become the defining series of Manzoni’s career. A material most commonly used as a pictorial support, here the plaster has become the subject of the work itself. By choosing a naturally white material, Manzoni sought to eliminate possible figurative, symbolic or iconographic interpretations of the Achromes creating as a result a painting that referred solely to itself. As he explained in a manifesto, ‘Dimensione libera’: ‘the question as far as I’m concerned is that of rendering a surface completely white (integrally colourless and neutral) far beyond any pictorial phenomenon or any intervention extraneous to the value of the surface. 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)’ (Manzoni, ‘Free Dimension’, Azimuth, no. 2, Milan, 1960, in ibid., exh. cat., London, 1974, p. 46-7). As the components of painting – colour, line and form – were reduced to the bare minimum, the limitations of the painted, mimetic canvas were abolished, opening up new possibilities for painting and paving the way for successive generations of artists.

Milan in 1957 was a hotbed of artistic creativity. In January of this year, eleven of Yves Klein’s radical International Klein Blue monochromes were shown at the Galleria Apollinaire, and in the same month, Alberto Burri’s Bianchi – white monochrome works made from a range of materials – as well as one of the all black Neri were exhibited at the Galleria del Naviglio. In the midst of this progressive contemporary art world, Manzoni was forging a form of painting that was built upon the developments of Klein and Burri as well as the great godfather of Italian post-war art, Lucio Fontana. Experimenting with the use of gesso, Manzoni had begun a series of paintings in which he scratched or marked the white plaster, leading him, in the autumn of 1957, to conceive of the Achromes. With the inception of this series, Manzoni was looking beyond the materiality of Burri’s works, or the mystical possibilities of monochrome colour as in Klein or Fontana’s works, instead exploring the idea of a space freed of any image, colour, mark or material, creating, as he described, ‘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’ (Manzoni, ‘For the Discovery of a Zone of Images’, in exh. cat., Piero Manzoni: Paintings, reliefs & objects, London, 1974, p. 17).

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