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.
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
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”.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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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