Piero Manzoni was born in Milan in 1933 into an aristocratic, wealthy family. His privileged background meant that he enjoyed greater financial freedom than many of his colleagues.
In 1951 Manzoni began studying law, but soon abandoned this field in order to study art and philosophy and devote himself to painting. He began painting figurative works at the age of 17, but later radically rejected all traditional modes of expression. He wished to get away from figures and colours – the work was to be emptied of all content. Instead, the materials were to be main element of the work, and the idea/concept itself was crucial.
Manzoni wished to create works that were neutral and did not evoke associations to anything. The works were to express total emptiness. The result was a wide range of Achromes, colourless works made out of materials such as cotton wool, cotton, fur and plaster.
In 1955 he began experimenting with materials such as plaster, tar, wax and oil in a series of works featuring black, human-like silhouettes. The definitive step towards the ‘primary picture’ came with his series of Achromes from 1957–58 – monochrome works created without the use of colour.
In 1959 Manzoni and Enrico Castellani founded the gallery Azimut in Milan. During an official opening at the gallery in 1960, Manzoni left his fingerprint on a number of boiled eggs, inviting audiences to eat them. That year Manzoni was invited to Herning for an art residency; the invitation was extended by a local shirt manufacturer, Aage Damgaard. During Manzoni’s three or four weeks in Herning he continued to experiment prolifically. For example, he created Linea Lunga 7200 metri, a 7.2 kilometre line made on a roll of paper of the kind used for newspaper printing, and a wide range of different achromes.
In 1961 Manzoni once again visited Aage Damgaard in Herning, this time creating the phenomenal Socle du Monde (Base of the World). With this work he turned our entire world upside down, instantly transforming the globe into a single, vast work of art. 1961 was also the year in which Manzoni began signing nude models, thereby creating living sculptures. Furthermore, he created one of his best-known works, Merda d’artista. The artist’s faeces sealed in a can. Ninety of these cans were produced, all signed and numbered 1 to 90.
Manzoni died in 1963 at the age of 29. During his brief life Manzoni succeeded in creating a range of works that were perceived as provocations by many – and still are today. At the same time, however, they express what Manzoni believed was required in order for something to be considered as art. The noble quality of the material in itself does not make a work of art, nor does the artist’s treatment of it. Only the artist’s authentication of something as art makes it art.
Credits: Piero Manzoni (1933-1963). Foto: Ole Bagger