Critics’ Picks

Piero Manzoni, Achrome, 1958–59, paint and kaolin on canvas, 13 3/4 x 10".


Piero Manzoni

Palazzo Reale
Piazza del Duomo, 12
March 26 - June 2

Fifty-one years after Piero Manzoni’s death, the Palazzo Reale plays host to an extensive retrospective of his work. It’s his first show in Milan—a city to which he was closely tied—since 1997, and with 130 works, as well as films and documents, the exhibition confirms the importance and prescience of both the artist’s research and output, which anticipated many issues in Conceptual art. But he only arrived at this point after first making earlier work, dense tar-covered canvases (such as L’immagine interiore [Interior Image], 1957), that reverberated with the influence of the “arte nucleare” movement—a source of inspiration that grew more dispersed and subtle in the material surfaces of his early white paintings of 1957, which he later named “Achromes.”

The variations in the Achromes on view here highlight the artist’s serial use of materials, such as puckered canvas, plush, cotton wool, compressed paper, and bread. Attentive to the work of Lucio Fontana, Manzoni soon moved away from the canvas, by making Fiato d’artista (Artist’s Breath), 1960, his “Uova scultura” (Egg Sculptures), 1960, and his famous Merda d’artista (Artist’s Shit), 1961. All serial products and processes, the works reveal the inscription of immaterial and residual elements within processes of artmaking—ironic elements that seem to lack distinctive qualities other than those superimposed by the artist’s desire to give them status. In his “Sculture viventi” (Living Sculptures), 1961, the works’ artistry is all but guaranteed by “certificates of authenticity,” wherein Manzoni left his autograph on participants’ bodies. The exhibition is only complete, however, with Socle du monde (Base of the World), 1961—though here it’s distorted in the installation: placed on a base of its own, rather than on the ground outside. What yields perhaps the most enlightening commentary, ultimately, is the documentation accompanying the show: both the artist’s book—which includes empty pages in translucent plastic—and the collection of rare footage of the artist’s actions.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.