Michael Werner Gallery, New York is pleased to present an exhibition of works by the pioneering post-war Italian artist Piero Manzoni (b. 1933, d. 1963), a key figure in the international development of performance and conceptual art. Over the course of a short life, Manzoni created a revolutionary, multifaceted oeuvre that had a lasting impact on artists throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
Three of Manzoni’s most important works are in the exhibition, including his largest Achrome. Experimenting with a variety of media including plaster, felt, velvet, wool, fur, and kaolin, the Achromes are colorless pictures free from narrative. The artist writes, “We absolutely cannot consider the picture as a space on which to project our mental scenography. It is the area of freedom in which we search for the discovery of our first images. Images that are as absolute as possible, which cannot be valued for that which they record, explain and express, but only for that which they are: to be.” Manzoni’s monumental Achrome measures over six feet high and is made with polystyrene and phosphorescent paint, which glows under a blacklight.
Breaking down the picture to its purest form, Manzoni does the same with the line in his Linea series. The Linea series are handmade lines of varying lengths, often rolled and sealed in canisters labeled with the artist’s name, contents, date of creation, and dimensions. The viewer does not see the line, which is instead replaced by imagination and belief. Manzoni writes, “The line develops only in length and extends towards infinity. The only dimension is time. And it hardly needs to be said that a ‘line’ is not a horizon or a symbol and it has value not as something beautiful but in the degree to which it exists.” One of Manzoni’s most significant and longest Linea is in the exhibition. Extending 1140 meters long, it is contained in an artist-designed, chrome-plated metal canister. The shiny, industrial finish of the canister is in direct contradiction to the handmade line concealed inside.
The tension between the body and art is a recurrent theme in Manzoni’s oeuvre. In 1961, he stages his first Scultura viventi (Living Sculpture) performance, in which he places his signature on people who wish to become works of art by generating a Certificate of Authenticity to mark their passage. Created in parallel with the Scultura viventi (Living Sculpture) performances is Manzoni’s elusive Base magica, a wooden pedestal that is not intended to be a work of art in and of itself. Instead, it is a “machine” that transforms people into living works of art when they stand upon it.
Manzoni died of a heart attack in his studio in Milan at 29 years old. Working from only 1956 to 1963, his provocative and radical body of work liberated and influenced many artists, including Joseph Beuys, Marcel Broodthaers, and James Lee Byars.
The exhibition opens to the public on Wednesday 7 February and will remain on view through Saturday 6 April. A full-color catalogue will accompany the exhibition with a text by Martin Engler.