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39½ x 29½ in. 100.3 x 74.9 cm.

Kaolin on squared and folded canvas

Executed in 1959.


Galleria Notizie, Torino
Pettinati Collection, Torino
Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne
Private Collection, Germany
Christie's, London, December 8, 1999, Lot 81
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Cologne, Galerie Karsten Greve; Paris, Galerie Karsten Greve, Piero Manzoni, January -- April 1991, p. 34 (illustrated in color and incorrectly dated 1958)
Siena, Castelluccio di Pienza-La Foce, 21 Works from the Collection of Karsten Greve, September - October 1996


Germano Celant, Piero Manzoni: Catalogo Generale, vol. I, Milan, 1975, cat. no. 29, p. 114, illustrated
Freddy Battino & Luca Palazzoli, Piero Manzoni: Catalogue Raisonné, Milan, 1991, cat. no. 545, p. 322, illustrated
Germano Celant, Piero Manzoni: Catalogo Generale, vol. II, Milan, 2004, cat. no. 455, p. 98, illustrated in color and p. 460, illustrated


In the early 1950s, when Piero Manzoni emerged into the world of art, the cultural atmosphere was still pervaded by the tragedy of the Second Word War and strongly marked by a sense of failure bound up with that vast, historic catastrophe. Intellectualism, at the limits of survival, found itself grappling with the horrific conditions of death, anguish and guilt. The artist too was overwhelmed by the rubble of history. All previous configurations of thought and perception had dissolved and all that remained proved fragmentary and difficult to reassemble. In this struggle, the canvas and the material of art were transformed into the arena of life itself, and given over to life's instantaneous, ephemeral self-assertion. Painting and sculpture became gestural and magmatic, eradicating all pre-existing assumptions of models and forms, defining themselves by "action" or "formlessness". Achrome from 1959 exemplifies Manzoni's revolutionary approach to art in this time of great ferment and aesthetic reappraisal.

Manzoni was the Italian artist who influenced international art trends of the second half of the 20th century perhaps more than any other of his contemporaries, and as such is highly sought after by art collectors worldwide. During a tragically short life of only 30 years, Manzoni adopted a fundamentally conceptual approach to making and viewing art, radically extending the boundaries of aesthetic practice. Manzoni sought to empty the canvas of its personal and social responsibilities exploited in earlier art practices such as Abstract Expressionism, emphasizing the surface and materials as the true subject of the work.

Manzoni did the first Achromes in 1956 and in them, the artist made a blank slate for all existential questions and interests, and began to consider the painting as an "area of liberty". Manzoni's mute surface and canvas were freed from all chromatic or figurative implications, becoming "Achrome," without color, and freed of all allusive and descriptive, allegorical and symbolic input. Manzoni rejected the idea of the canvas as an area in which the artist could express himself and argued that painting should express nothing but its own existence. The concept that a canvas had been created absent of a personal creative vision or individual manipulation was of great importance to Manzoni. The Achrome establishes itself as a self-signifying sign; it eliminates all autobiography and does away with the personal mystique of the artist. It recognizes in its act of being there, the individuality of the canvas and the material that covers it, endowing their "birth" with a fundamental value. The "colorless" Achrome is an entity in its elementary state - it neither speaks nor explains, it is not a tool, but a field of limitless possibilities of life.

The present work from 1959 is an outstanding example from the Achrome series, which ranged in influence from Minimalism to Arte Povera. In this work twelve rectangles are formed from the pleated surface of the canvas in a systematic play of texture and surface. The Kaolin remains white in order not to evoke any associative, symbolic or representative meanings and to maintain the essential simplicity and purity of the work. Manzoni further asserted the importance of the canvas surface when he stated, ``A painting is of value in so far as it is a total being ... two toning colors or two tones of the same color are already a relationship that is extraneous to the meaning of the surface.'' (Piero Manzoni, ``Manzoni Free Dimension,'' Azimuth no. 2, Milan, 1960)

In Achrome (1959), the canvas is arranged into a series of folds and creases, coated with the chalky, colorless Kaolin solution. Even whiter and purer than the original canvas, the Kaolin not only removed the trace of Manzoni's hand but enhanced the depth of the surface undulations, adding vibrancy to the work. Ultimately, it is with the self-defining drying process, without the artist's intervention, that Achrome achieves its final organic form. As the artist asserted in 1960, ``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 color and forms ....Why shouldn't this surface be freed. Why not seek to discover the unlimited meaning of total space, of pure and absolute light.'' (Ibid.)
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