Piero Manzoni (1933-1963)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Piero Manzoni (1933-1963)

Achrome

Details
Piero Manzoni (1933-1963)
Achrome
kaolin on canvas
23 5/8 x 31 ½in. (60 x 80cm.)
Executed in 1958-59
Provenance
Manzoni Collection, Milan.
Shultz Collection, Milan.
Private Collection, Europe.
Galleria dello Scudo, Milan.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Literature
F. Battino and L. Palazzoli, Piero Manzoni, Catalogue Raisonné, Milan 1991, no. 346, (illustrated, p. 274).
G. Celant, Piero Manzoni. Catalogo generale, Milan 2004, no. 204 (illustrated, p. 424).
Exhibited
Crema, Museo di Crema, Piero Manzoni, 1971 (illustrated, unpaged). This exhibition later travelled to Ferrara, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna.
Rome, Skene Arte, Piero Manzoni, 1978.
Modena, Galleria d’Arte Fonte d’Abisso, Piero Manzoni, 1978 (illustrated, unpaged).
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.
Sale room notice
Please note that the provenance should read:

Manzoni Collection, Milan.
Shultz Collection, Milan.
Private Collection, Europe.
Galleria dello Scudo, Milan.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.

and not as stated in the printed catalogue.

Brought to you by

Mariolina Bassetti
Mariolina Bassetti

Lot Essay

Belonging to Piero Manzoni’s most radical and important series of works from the late 1950s, Achrome emerged at the height of the artist’s dynamic experimentations with the infinite sculptural possibilities of the canvas. Expelling all external references from the image and instead embracing the material dimension of the painting, Manzoni sought to bring art back to its primordial, absolute form in these works, thus opening the medium to infinite new possibilities. The stark beauty and purity of Manzoni’s Achromes stood in direct contrast to the prevailing emotional outpouring and visceral energy of the Abstract Expressionists, whose dramatic paintings were imbued with the internal angst and turmoil that plagued their creators. Instead, Manzoni believed the canvas should be ‘an area of liberty,’ released from the conventions of figurative representation and artistic gesture (Manzoni, quoted in G. Celant, Piero Manzoni Catalogo Generale, Milan, 2004, p. LIII). To achieve this goal, he set out to eliminate all subjective emotion from the pictorial surface, instead endowing the very materials with which the artwork was created with a sense of potential and presence.

Manzoni developed his Achromes during one of the most seismic periods in the post-war European art world, as a small group of revolutionary painters, sculptors and thinkers sought to re-write the fundamental rules that underpinned artistic expression. Alongside
Lucio Fontana and Alberto Burri, Manzoni began searching for a means to break free from the conventions and constraints of the past, and thus forge a path towards an art that transcended all references to the visible world. ‘I cannot seem to understand those painters who, though they claim to be interested in modern problems, still even now place themselves in front of the canvas as if it were a surface to be filled with colours and shapes, in keeping with the more or less laudable taste, more or less in tune,’ he lamented. ‘Once they have drawn or supplied a sign, they step back, look at what they have done, tilting their head to one side and gently closing one eye, then they leap forward once again, adding another sign, another colour from their palette, and carry on with this form of calisthenics until they have filled up the painting, covered canvas: the painting is finished: a surface of infinite possibilities is now reduced to a sort of recipient into which unnatural colours, artificial significances have been forced and compressed. And why, instead, should we not empty this recipient? Why not liberate this surface? Why not attempt to discover the limitless significance of a total space, of a pure and absolute light?’ (Manzoni, quoted in G. Celant, ‘In the Territory of Piero Manzoni,’ G. Celant (ed.), Piero Manzoni, exh. cat. Naples, 2007, p. 30)

With his Achromes, Manzoni found the answer to his provocative questions. Rigorously colourless and animated solely by the undulations and creases of the canvas, these works marked a crucial turning point in the artist’s career, breaking away from the Arte nucleare group with whom the young artist had until then associated himself. All extraneous pictorial detail – descriptive, subjective, allegorical or symbolic – was purged, leaving only the surface itself, colourless, neutral and absolute. The work was no longer a painting in the traditional sense, but rather ‘a totally white – or rather, totally colourless – surface, removed from all pictorial phenomena…’ (Manzoni, quoted in G. Celant, ‘From the Open Wound to the Resurrected Body: Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni,’ in E. Braun (ed.) Italian Art in the 20th Century, exh. cat., London, 1989, p. 297). As the structure of painting was reduced to its bare minimum through this drastic refusal of colours, painting itself could expand into an infinite realm. Devoid of all composition, forms and colours, works such as Achrome evoked a new spatial environment, conceptually boundless and abstract: ‘in total space form, colour and dimensions have no meaning. The artist has achieved integral freedom: pure material becomes pure energy’ (Manzoni, ‘Free Dimension,’1960, reproduced in Piero Manzoni: Painting, reliefs & objects, exh. cat., London, 1974, p. 46). Following a principle that could be extended to infinity, Manzoni’s series of Achromes could thus be repeated by the artist endlessly, each time asserting the new dimension in which painting had entered.

While the artist had used tar and oil as materials during his ‘nuclear’ phase, for his Achromes Manzoni was drawn to the colourless properties of kaolin, a soft china clay used to make porcelain, which he had encountered in the ceramic workshops of Albisola, an artistic sea-side town where he had holidayed as a child. Soaking the canvases in the chalky solution, the artist rendered the canvas even whiter and purer than the original material. However, while the Supremacists had associated white with purity or infinity, Manzoni considered it to be a non-colour, a pigment that could not be imbued with meaning or content. In it, he sought ‘a white that is not a polar landscape […] not a sensation or a symbol or anything else: just a white surface that is simply a white surface and nothing else’ (Manzoni, ibid, p. 47). As such, it allowed him to emphasise the materiality of the canvas, transcending any reference to the visible world. By pouring the kaolin directly onto the prepared canvas, meanwhile, Manzoni distanced himself from the process of creation, removing any trace of the artistic gesture from the final artwork.

Instead, the kaolin flows independently across the canvas, seeping into every groove and ripple in the the material, freezing them in place, interacting with the elements in order to dictate its own final form. By tapping into the inherent energies and expressive properties of his chosen material, Manzoni allows the Achromes to evolve through a self-sufficient, organic process, becoming autonomous, self-defining artworks in their own right, objects that stand outside the limits of the artist’s imagination.

Although initially Manzoni had allowed his early Achromes to determine their own structure entirely, by 1958 he had become interested in creating a more complex surface structure in his works, and began to introduce pleats and folds into the canvas prior to its contact with the kaolin. Producing a richer, more sculptural surface, each of the folds harbours a variety of textures, as areas of bare canvas sit alongside pools of kaolin, concealed deep in the crevices of the undulating fabric. Striking a balance between the subjective and the objective, this elegant intervention of the pleating generates a sense of dynamism and movement in the finished artwork, while also highlighting the self-defining nature of the kaolin. Indeed, due to its slow-drying nature, the kaolin introduces subtle nuances to the concertina-like ripples of the material, its thick, viscous consistency causing shifts and cracks to appear as it set, gradually altering the lines created by the artist, exerting its own presence in their shape and alignment.

In the present Achrome, the surface is alive with the evidence of its own creation, a work of raw, immediate and unmediated beauty, the embodiment of Manzoni’s desire for, ‘images which are as absolute as possible, which cannot be valued for what they record, explain and express, but only for that which they are: to be’ (Manzoni, ‘For the Discovery of a Zone of Images’ 1957, in ibid., p. 17). Little drips and bubbles remain visible on the surface of the canvas, their presence recalling the liquid state of the kaolin, its initial interaction with the canvas, and the transformation that has occurred in the intervening period. In this way, the Achrome not only boldly reveals the process of its own creation, but also becomes a meditation on the nature of existence, the role of the artist, and the potential future of painting in the post-war era.

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