Artist Piero Manzoni
Accession year 1990
Kaolin on canvas, 73 x 60 cm
Collection Fondazione Francesco Federico Cerruti per l’Arte
Long-term loan Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli-Turin
Inv. no. CC.26.P.MAN.1959.A132
Provenance: Ghiringhelli Collection, Milan; Sotheby’s, London, Post War and Contemporary Art, 5 April 1990 (lot 626).
Exhibitions: Nice 1972 (np., ill.); Saint Petersburg 2018 (pp. 38-39, no. 3).
Bibliography: Celant 1975, p. 107; Battino Palazzoli 1991, p. 320; Celant 1998, p. 31; Celant 2004, vol. II, p. 461, no. 465, ill.; The Cerruti Collection 2019, p. 68, ill.
“For me it’s a question of producing a fully white surface (or rather a completely colourless, neutral one) outside all painting phenomena.”
(Piero Manzoni, 1960)
Born in Soncino, in the province of Cremona, in 1933, Piero Manzoni lived and studied in Milan. In 1955 he moved to Rome for around one year, where he enrolled in the Faculty of Literature and Philosophy at La Sapienza University. The artist made his debut in August 1956 at the IV Fiera Mercato at the Castello Sforzesco in Soncino, together with Angelo Verga and Ettore Sordini, and in the same year he took part in the Premio San Fedele in Milan with a work composed of anthropomorphic shapes similar to the primigenial and embryonic figures of Arte Nucleare. Together with the artists of the Nucleare movement, Manzoni took part in the Arte Nucleare 1957 exhibition at the Galleria San Fedele in 1957, and signed up to the Contro lo stile manifesto written by Enrico Baj and Sergio Dangelo, which was also signed by Arman, Yves Klein, Arnaldo and Giò Pomodoro, and Pierre Restany.
Manzoni made his decisive leap forward with his white gesso pictures produced between late 1957 and 1958. Manzoni looks to Lucio Fontana’s dematerialisation in these works, exhibited in 1958 at the Galleria Pater in Milan and described by the artist in 1959 as “achrome surfaces”. The canvas is covered entirely by rough gesso applications, over which the artist sometimes places jute canvas treated with gesso, so that the surface resembles a white space wrinkled by the encrustations of a used material in its natural state. “For me it’s a question of producing a fully white surface (or rather a completely colourless, neutral one) outside all painting phenomena,” wrote Manzoni in 1960 in the second issue of Azimuth, a magazine he founded in 1959 together with Enrico Castellani, with whom he also directed the Galleria Azimut.1
A work that “tends to make itself an object, a desolate presence in itself” is how Manzoni’s white pictures were described in 1959 by the poet Leo Paolazzi, the pen name of Antonio Porta.2 With his achrome, Manzoni sweeps away the existential components and expressive values of Art Informel. From mid-1958 onwards, the artist replaced the gesso typical of his first Achromes with kaolin, a clay material commonly found in the furnaces of Albissola Marina, a place renowned for its illustrious pottery tradition, where the artist had spent his holidays since early childhood. The work, dated 1959, which was purchased by Francesco Federico Cerruti at a Sotheby’s auction in 1990 and had previously belonged to the Ghiringhelli Collection in Milan, can be attributed to this phase of Manzoni’s career.
The folds that shape its surface are partly due to the organic process of drying the liquid kaolin as it sets. The canvas, which juts out into the room, is inverted and everted, forming folds and creases, thereby inducing a desire in the viewer to touch it and explore it physically, not unlike the effect produced by the works of Alberto Burri, such as Two Shirts (1956) and Grande Bianco (Large White, 1956), where the fabrics and clothes in the work seem to hold an imprint of the body that wore them, making us want to touch them even before looking at them. In the Cerruti Collection Achrome, the folds formed by the set kaolin are arranged by the artist in a regular fashion, with a squared structure, suggesting a serial and repeated conception of the artistic object. The artist soon went on to develop this solution further in his series of Achromes made with sewn canvas.
1 Manzoni 1960, np.
2 L. Paolazzi, in Rome 1959, np.