Piero Manzoni's unique, visionary artistic practice resulted in a sea-change in perceptions of what art could or indeed should be, and how it functioned, and this was best expressed in his Achromes, a word that he coined in order to convey an idea of colourlessness, pushing to a new extreme the Monochromes of his friend and fellow artist Yves Klein. Where Klein sought to express the Immaterial, though, Manzoni sought a far more tangible means of tapping into fundamental and universal aspects of human existence. Executed circa 1960, Achrome perfectly demonstrates one of the radical and highly influential strategies by which Manzoni achieved this in his work. Consisting of rows of cotton wool, Achrome reveals the artist using readymade materials in order to remove any notion of his own intervention in its creation. Manzoni sought to create a tabula rasa in his works, stripping away anything that would contain associative references or prompt overly subjective interpretations. Instead, by creating something that is clear and open, he sought to encourage the viewer to reach the common ground that underpins all human experience, that links us all as a race. 'There comes a point where individual mythology and universal mythology are identical', he explained.
'In this context it is clear that there can be no concern with symbolism and description, memories, misty impressions, of childhood, pictorism, sentimentalism: all this must be absolutely excluded. So must every hedonistic repetition of arguments that have already been exhausted, since the man who continues to trifle with myths that have already been discovered is an aesthete, and worse.
'Abstractions and references must be totally avoided. In our freedom of invention we must succeed in constructing a world that can be measured only in its own terms.
'We absolutely cannot consider the picture as a space on to 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 what they record, explain and express, but only for that which they are: to be' ('For the Discovery of a Zone of Images, reproduced in Piero Manzoni: Paintings, reliefs & objects, exh. cat., London 1974, pp. 16-17).
Achrome perfectly embodies this notion of freedom, presenting the viewer with a work that has been untrammelled by the artists hand, that does not even feature colour, already too subjective an element. While Manzoni thus managed to present the viewer with a work of art that was a creation of the universe itself, that could potentially have the same visual currency with any viewer, he also managed to introduce a notion of self-containment and objecthood that would pave the way for many subsequent developments in contemporary art, not least Minimalism.