'The Achrome is a painting that forfeits any mimetic value. It interprets no flux but that of the materials (canvas and kaolin, cotton, woollen fibre, cobalt chloride, fluorescent pigment, etc.). It even takes refuge in them, as if they were underground currents all feeding one and the same river - a water without reflection or image aside from itself.'
(P. Manzoni, quoted in Piero Manzoni's Titanic Project, exh.cat., Galerie Karsten Greve, Paris 1992, p. 89).
Piero Manzoni's seminal, totem-like Achromes stand at the cornerstone of Conceptual art and form an underlying current throughout the artist's career, coming to embody and define his oeuvre as a whole. Begun in 1957 and tragically cut short by Manzoni's untimely death in 1963, the Achromes respond to and develop the self-asserting materiality prevalent in the Spatialist explorations of Lucio Fontana and Alberto Burri and the mysticism of Yves Klein's monochromes. Self-defining works, the Achromes eschew extraneous detail and style becoming colourless voids, asserting only their own surfaces.
The lexicon of the present uncoated Achrome, with its tessellated patchwork of fabric squares that elegantly traverse the work in a near grid-like pattern, forms part of a comparatively rare dialect of Achromes whose concept fully draws out and explores the potential of endless repetition. It was after a formative exhibition with members of the Zero Group in July 1959 in Rotterdam that Manzoni was introduced to notable German members of the group such as Heinz Mack and Otto Piene in Düsseldorf. Profoundly influencing Manzoni, his Achromes made in the summer of 1959 became more economical, leaner, abandoning as he did the use of kaolin on the canvas. Manzoni's first explorations into these bare canvases were exhibited for the first time during the August of the same year in Albisola. The present Achrome, in its overt and manifest display of its own materiality, continues and develops these investigations.
Abjuring painterly qualities and gesture, the untreated rectangles of canvas in Achrome were mechanically stitched together forming what Manzoni came to refer to as a 'structural raster', laying bare the means of its construction with its pure, unadulterated surface. For the artist, this constituted a logical development towards the most essential form of visual communication: 'I am quite unable to understand those painters who, whilst declaring an active interest in modern problems, still continue even today to confront a painting as if it was a surface to be filled with colour' (P. Manzoni, quoted in G. Celant, Piero Manzoni, exh.cat., Serpentine Gallery, London 1998, p. 130). Instead these stitched canvases offer the viewer the opportunity to delight in 'the unlimited meaning of total space, of pure and absolute light' (ibid).