Piero Manzoni was born of an aristocratic family  in 1933, in Soncino.  He died in 1963 leaving an artistic heritage that inspired the younger generation and in particular, the artists of  impoverished art .



 He studied briefly  at the Brera Academy . In the ‘fifties, after painting some traditional landscapes, Manzoni  started to experiment with new materials, such as oil, wax, enamel,  chalk and glue. His first  mature works were influenced by the informal abstract experience of Burri, Fontana and Jean Fautrier. At the beginning of 1956 he had already started to produce pictures by dipping  such objects as keys, scissors, pliers and pincers  in the colour then imprinting them on the canvas. These works were followed by pictures created with petroleum and tar.


The unconscious impulse

 On December 9th 1956 Manzoni published the manifesto for the discovery of a zone of  images, together with Camillo Corvi Mora, Ettore Sordini and Giuseppe Zecca.  According to Manzoni a work of art originates from an unconscious impulse, that triggers from a collective substrate of values common to all men.


Achromatic techniques

In the spring of 1957 he took part in a collective exhibition organised by Fontana at the Pater Gallery in Milan, and in June he became a member of the “Gruppo Nucleare” (Nuclear group) that distributed his manifesto for organic paintings. In autumn he signed the manifesto against style, that confirmed  the support of the “International Nuclear group”. In response to the works of Fontana, Burri and Yves Klein (whose blue monochromes he had seen when they were shown at the first Italian exhibition in January 1956), he invented ”achromes”, a compound of raw chalk which was then scratched or etched. The series of “achromes” that followed  include canvases covered in kaolin (1958), felt, cotton and polystyrene (1960), wool and rabbit fur (1961) then bread and stones in 1962.  In January 1958 he exhibited with Enrico Baj and Fontana at the Bergamo Gallery, but by the  beginning of 1959 he had left the “Nuclear group” to work more independently.


The first lines

 He became acquainted with Agostino Bonalumi, Vincenzo Agnetti and Enrico Castellani, with whom he published the magazine “Azimuth”.  Developing an always more conceptual approach, in 1959 Manzoni created the first lines, produced by tracing a stripe, with a pad dipped in ink, onto a roll of paper. The sheets of paper were then rolled up and each one put into a container that indicated the length and the date of execution. The longest line of 7,200 metres was that produced at Herning Park in Denmark in 1960.



"Achrome" 1958

"Fiato d'artista" 1960

"Shit" 1961

"Uova italiane"

"Base del mondo"



Some details

 During a stay at the Hague, Henk Peeters introduced him to the “Zero” group. In April 1959 Manzoni was in Rome to promote his plaster book entitled “Piero Manzoni parla” (Piero Manzoni talks). When he returned to Milan he created forty-five “air bodies” – sculptures that could be inflated with air, and he continued to produce them up until 1961. Those which he actually blew into himself are known as “artist’s breath”



 In December 1959, he and  Castellani opened the Azimuth Gallery. In June of the following year he organised the exhibition “Consumazione dell’arte” (The consumption of art), during which he distributed hard-boiled eggs, signed with his finger-print, inviting the public to eat them. As much of Manzoni’s work, the eggs were a parody of the mass production of a consumerist society  and , in a neodada vein, constituted a satyr of the veneration of fine arts and the artist.


Living sculptures

 During the last months  of 1960 Manzoni signed the ”Del nulla contro nulla” (Of nothing against nothing) manifesto with Castellani, Heinz Mack and Otto Piene . The year after he created the first Magic Base for living sculptures; anybody could become a work of art. At the Tartaruga Gallery in Rome he signed the first living sculptures, guaranteeing them with an authenticity certificate. He also produced ninety cans of “Artist’s Shit”, which he considered the final affirmation of the unity between art and life.


His philosophy

 In 1961 he visited the nouveau réalisme exhibition “40° au-dessus de dada” in Paris, where he met Arman, Jean Tinguely and Klein. According to Manzoni “There is nothing to say: there is only to be, only to live” He therefore sustained that art included everything in the world, be it animal, vegetable or mineral . He exalted this concept in “Basis of the world” in 1961, an upside-down “magic base”, dedicated to Galileo, who supported the whole world.


Conceptual art


 Manzoni was a precocious exponent of conceptual art, an untiring promoter of  exhibitions and manifestos  forming an important tie between the Italian avant-garde  and parallel European experiences.


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