An inspired experimenter and refined provocateur, in the few years of his career, Piero Manzoni (Soncino, 1933 – Milan, 1963) laid the foundations for the development of various artistic trends, in Italy and abroad, in the postwar year. Drawing on the Dadaist experience and developing some insights of Marcel Duchamp, in his body of work Manzoni presented a careful reflection on the role of the artist and the significance of the contemporary artwork, defined in relation to its context.
His most celebrated operations, from his cans of Merda d’artista (“Artist’s Shit”) to performances in which the artist created a rapport with the public, insisted on the concepts of authorship and authenticity, fueling the myth of the artist at the same time as they debunked it: his excrement sold for its weight in gold, the balloons he inflated that became artworks because they contained the Artists’ Breath, the women he put his signature on, transforming them into Living Sculptures, eggs on which he placed his thumbprint were art to be consumed, to be experienced, to be lived. Anyone could become a work of art by stepping onto his magic pedestal, so elevating the banal to art merely through the symbolic power of the artist’s gesture.
Paralleling his research into the new possibilities for the creation and use of the artistic product, Manzoni worked to redefine the language of painting: after the season of Art Informel, which had accentuated the expressive power of the artist’s subjectivity, Manzoni presented the asepticism of monochromy as a field open to all possibilities, suggesting affinities with other European developments, notably the research being conducted by Yves Klein in France.
In his Achrome, literally “colorless painting”, as in the case of the works in the collection in the context of Per_forming a collection project, it was no longer the artist who expressed himself but matter, left free to coagulate into forms only suggested by the initial act. By using kaolin, a material that congeals naturally, Manzoni created creased canvases. On the surface of the canvas itself, the artist then included everyday items (balls of cotton wool, bread rolls, eggs, polystyrene) with the same purpose: to show that a picture can be an independent, self-referential, tautological surface that refers to nothing but itself, sealed within its own essence. There is no longer any room for the emotional component of the artist, who becomes the activator of a situation that is significant in itself.
The analytical process of verification that underlies all Manzoni’s work anticipated the conceptual attitude and all the phenomena of “dematerializing” the art object that was to be crucial in the further development of contemporary art.