Piero Manzoni - Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I New York Tuesday, November 14, 2023 | Phillips
  •  “Infinity is strictly monochromatic, or better still, colorless.”
    —Piero Manzoni


    Achrome, c. 1959, belongs to Piero Manzoni’s radical series of the same name, a proto-Minimalist, proto-Conceptual project that captivated the artist for the final six years of his all-too-short career. Inspired by Yves Klein’s blue monochromes, which he saw in Milan in 1957, Manzoni took Klein’s chromatic minimalism to a new extreme with Achrome by excluding paint altogether. The present work dates to the tail end of the first—and most iconic—group within the Achrome series, of works made solely from creased canvas soaked in liquid kaolin, a colorless porcelain slip; thus, Achrome is not white, but without color entirely.

    Yves Klein, Monochrome bleu (IKB 219), 1956. Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. Image: Banque d'Images, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2023 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

    With the name Achrome, Manzoni indicated both an absence of painted hue and subject matter, as well as the removal of the artist’s hand from the final appearance of the work. Left to dry naturally, the fossilized surface of Achrome is created by air on clay, rather than paintbrush on canvas. Trailblazing and irreverent, Manzoni’s Achrome challenges preconceptions of what it means to make a painting, and what a painting really is, in the first place.


     “I do not understand painters who… still stand in front of a canvas as if it were a surface needing to be filled… Why not try to make the limitless sense of total space, of a pure and absolute light, appear instead?”
    —Piero Manzoni, Libera Dimensione, 1960


    Concurrent to the creation of the present work, Manzoni published his first solo manifesto, Libera Dimensione, 1960, which expressed the aims of the Achrome series. In the manifesto, Manzoni radically asserted that artists who approach the canvas as a surface to be filled in with color, form, and brushstroke did not address “contemporary problems.”i Such a statement is a thinly-veiled critique of American Abstract Expressionism, which had been the predominant international influence in painting of the past decade. Manzoni, with a nihilistic sense of alienation cultivated by his association with the Nuclear group in Milan, did not attribute the same value to the individual brushstroke of the artist-genius as his American peers. Rather than seeing painting as a means to individual expression, Manzoni interpreted the canvas as “a surface with limitless possibilities,” which he wanted to keep as open as possible.ii Manzoni sought to “liberate [the] surface” of the canvas, which he believed was blocked and covered in conventional painting, an abject “receptable” full of paint.iii Achrome empties itself of the “inventions” of painting—no color, no form, no brushstroke—just “pure and absolute light.”iv


    Nike removing her sandal, c. 410 BCE. Acropolis Museum, Athens. Image: Album / Art Resource, NY

    With painterly intervention minimized, Manzoni opened Achrome up to timeless natural and art historical associations.v The absence of color grants focus in on the texture of the porcelainized surface. The folds of the canvas, hardened by kaolin, rise in ridges across the work, like rippling waves, striated clouds, or a sunset reflecting over the horizon. The horizontal format recalls the form of Ancient Greek and Roman low-relief friezes, while the dynamic, yet arrested stillness of the kaolin-coated canvas resembles sculpted drapery. Associations with European funerary sculpture, with shrouds carved from marble, surface as well, and the powdery surface of the work, like plaster of Paris, furthers the sculptural antecedent. The question arises, then: is Achrome a painting, or a sculpture?


    Marcel Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-1923. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Image: The Philadelphia Museum of Art / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2023 Association Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

    Such proto-Conceptual questions were Manzoni’s signature, as his mature career interrogated the nature of what it means to be an artist, and what constitutes an art object. His body of work was both profound and irreverent at once, poking at the rigid categorizations and distinctions of art with an earnestness and commitment akin to Marcel Duchamp’s attitude. With Achrome, Manzoni endeavored to make a transcendent art object devoid of color, gesture, and the artist’s hand, but therein lay an inherent contradiction: as a man-made object, Achrome was still handmade by Manzoni. The artist folded the canvas himself, arranged the fanning creases, soaked it in kaolin. The work did not spring forth, ready-made. This fundamental tension, and irony, connected Achrome to Manzoni’s most ironic and infamous works, such as Fiato d’Arista (Artist’s Breaths), 1960, and Merda d’Artista (Artist’s Shit), 1961, both in the collection of the Tate Modern, London. Taken together, his corpus pushed the limits of our collective understanding of art and artistry as a sublime and transcendent force in our lives.


    Manzoni was earnest in his pursuit of the infinite through Achrome, and equally aware that such an artistic pursuit is futile. Achrome is grandiose, infinite, nothing. As Manzoni concluded in 1960, “There is nothing to explain: just be, and live.”vi



    i Piero Manzoni, “Free Dimension,” 1960, reproduced in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, eds., Art in Theory: 1900-1990, Blackwell Publishers, 1992, p. 709. Accessed via Internet Archive.

    ii Ibid.

    iii Ibid.

    iv Ibid.

    v Ibid., p. 710.

    vi Ibid., p. 711.

    • Description

      Please see main sale page for guarantee notice https://www.phillips.com/auctions/auction/NY011123

    • Provenance

      Gian Enzo Sperone, Turin
      Galerie Elke Dröscher, Hamburg (1978)
      Private Collection, Hamburg (acquired from the above)
      Christie's, New York, November 11, 2003, lot 37
      Private Collection, U.S.A. (acquired at the above sale)
      Christie's, London, February 11, 2010, lot 13
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Herning Kunstmuseum; Madrid, Sala de Exposiciones de la Fundación "la Caixa"; Turin, Castello di Rivoli-Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Piero Manzoni, March 28, 1991– May 3, 1992, no. 30, pp. 90, 218 (illustrated, p. 90)
      Rotterdam, Kunsthal, Avant-gardes 1870 to the present: The Collection of the Triton Foundation, October 7, 2012–January 20, 2013, pp. 516-517, 552-553 (illustrated, p. 517)

    • Literature

      Germano Celant, Piero Manzoni Catalogo generale, Milan, 1975, no. 152cg, p. 161 (illustrated)
      Freddy Battino and Luca Palazzoli, Piero Manzoni catalogue raisonné, Milan, 1991, no. 421, p. 293 (illustrated)
      Germano Celant, Piero Manzoni Catalogo generale, vol. II, Milan 2004, no. 359, p. 447 (illustrated)




creased canvas and kaolin
19 3/4 x 24 in. (50 x 61 cm)
Executed circa 1959.

Full Cataloguing

$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for $1,754,000

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Kolberg
Associate Specialist, Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1206

Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I

New York Auction 14 November 2023