The body of work for which Manzoni remains most recognized - and notorious - came from the last half decade of his short life. Achrome, executed in 1959, is a radiant example of the most lastingly influential of Manzoni's works and dates from the very beginning of this rich period in which the artist found the voice that secured his reputation as a pioneering artist.
In 1958, a growing interest in the potential of the monochrome was evident throughout the Italian avant-garde and informed the work of Castellani, Burri and Fontana, who was beginning to explore the monochrome in works that he had pierced and punctured. But Manzoni would take the monochrome to a new level, revolutionizing an already revolutionary concept by stripping away even the color inherent in 'chrome'. Hence, the Achrome came into being, a painting without colour, without representation, without even paint. In his art, Manzoni sought to free himself 'from extraneous details and useless gestures; details and gestures that are polluting the customary art of our day and sometimes actually acquire such prominence that they become banners of artistic trends' (Manzoni, Art is not a true creation, Milan, 1957, reproduced in G. Celant, Piero Manzoni, exh.cat., Milan & London, 1998, p. 76).
The present Achrome, once a part of the prestigious Malabarba collection of post-war Italian art, presents a grid of roughly creased squares that have been formed by soaking raw canvas in kaolin. Manzoni has then allowed them to set slowly, a process that has resulted in their moving around and ultimately defining their own appearance. In this way, Achrome is a product more of the forces of nature, and the forces of the work's constituent parts themselves, than of the artist. In contrast to the personal outpourings that characterised the art of many of Manzoni's contemporaries in Europe and the United States, here the artist has removed himself from the equation, distancing himself from the act of creation as well as from any content. Instead, he has created a realm of infinite potential, a lowest common denominator that through its own non-specificity manages to become universal.
Discussing the power and intention behind the Achromes, the qualities that lend them their unique sense of objecthood, Manzoni explained that they provide, '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 then that: a surface that simply is: to be (to be complete and become pure)' (Manzoni, quoted in G. Celant, Piero Manzoni, exh. cat., Milan & London 1998, p. 27).