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Achrome
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Achrome
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Achrome

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About the item

“…the Achrome opposes the artist’s corporeality with an independence of its own. It privileges the flow of the hardening, crystallizing material, and seeks to activate the energies buried within the object.” (Germano Celant in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Gagosian Gallery, Piero Manzoni: A Retrospective, 2009, p. 29) “I don’t care whether my art is beautiful or ugly, but it must be true.” (Piero Manzoni quoted in: Jens Jørsen Thorsen, ‘Han Scelger ideer på dåser’, in: Aktuelt, Copenhagen, 20 June 1960, p. 144)\nExecuted in 1959,  Achrome is one of the most alluring and striking works from Piero Manzoni's ground breaking series. Its thickly gathered pleats are the ultimate expression of Manzoni's central philosophy, stunningly epitomising the artist's quest to forge a painting technique bereft of representation and contrived gesture. Etymologically signifying ‘without colour’, the Achrome emerged from Manzoni’s quasi-mystical pursuit of art that resisted fleeting cultural or temporal trends. Among the most radical conceptual gestures of twentieth century art, the Achrome deny any symbolic meaning or narrative interpretation, severing the painting’s surface from the vicissitudes of artistic biography or style. Forged as kaolin clay and water dries upon wet canvas, the intricate patternings of the present work are hewn purely by Nature itself. Influential critic Germano Celant has eloquently explained: "Manzoni's Achrome aspired to cut the umbilical cord between artefact and artificer; it aimed at reducing art's dependency on the artist... the Achrome represent no hue, no chromatic memory at all. Nothing that might recall nature of the artist's own passion" (Germano Celant in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Serpentine Gallery, Piero Manzoni, 1998, p. 22). Possessing a landscape of incandescent highlights and lusciously defining shadows, Achrome from 1959 is among the most gorgeous examples of this iconic series ever to appear for public sale.\nManzoni first initiated the Achrome in 1956 and in doing so rejected the existential and empirical questions with which his contemporaries were engaged. The Achrome was a blank slate, a mute surface and tabula rasa emancipated and emptied of narrative, expression, allegory and allusion; in the words of Celant, the Achrome embody "a maximum magnification of the visible, externalised with blinding whiteness, which undresses and depersonalises the painting, forcing it to live as if by its own light" (Germano Celant in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Gagosian Gallery, Piero Manzoni: A Retrospective, 2009, p. 31). Constituting an elementary sign, the Achrome does not signify or represent anything but its own existence; the individual character of the canvas achieves autonomous being in its own right. While the machismo action of Abstract Expressionism was at the height of its powers in America and the European art scene was dominated by painterly gestures of Art Informel, Manzoni disassociated the painted surface from the active participation of the artist. As explained by the artist, "abstractions and references must be totally avoided. In our freedom of invention we must succeed in constructing a world that can be measured only in its own terms" (Piero Manzoni, 'For the Discovery of a Zone of Images', c.1957, in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Gallery, Piero Manzoni: Paintings, Reliefs and Objects, 1974, p. 17).\nThe quest for "freedom" from narrative content was an agenda shared by a number of Manzoni's contemporaries. Indeed, the Achromes were almost certainly stimulated by the foundational dual-inquiries of Lucio Fontana and Alberto Burri, while the IKB Monochromes executed by his contemporary and friend Yves Klein reflected the artistic impetus beset by Manzoni's milieu. Nonetheless, Manzoni's monochrome strategy was utterly singular and distinctively ground breaking; rather than apply paint to the canvas' surface, the artist focused on the material of the painterly ground itself. By dislocating artistic agency and gesture from the canvas' surface, Manzoni aimed to strip away representation to obtain an entirely self-generated metaphysical image of absolute radical purity. Through the Achrome Manzoni endeavoured to freeze painting and suspend the composing elements rather than consume or transform them. Structured as a 'non-picture', the Achrome was composed via the exposure and drying process of the untouched 'virgin' canvas. As gloriously articulated in the present work, finely striated pleats horizontally stretched in sensuous folds across the imposing canvas are the exquisite result of the spontaneous action of the kaolin. This material, a soft china clay employed in making porcelain and first used by Manzoni in 1958, is not an impasto; it does not require brushing, pouring or physical manipulation as with the 'action' painters of Abstract Expressionism. Rather, Manzoni would first glue the canvas into a seemingly organic arrangement of self-proliferating folds and creases, before the chalky colourless kaolin solution was applied over the top. Even whiter and purer than the canvas ground beneath, the kaolin not only removed the trace of his hand but enhanced the depth and plasticity of the surface undulations. The resultant enigmatic work, with its torrent of tightly wrought folds, seems to harbour a dynamic energy within the gathers of the canvas, suggestive of a living, vibrant entity. Ultimately it is through the self-defining drying process, without the artist's intervention, that the work achieves its final form.\nThroughout the series of Achromes, Manzoni took a detached empirical stance, executing trials into how different materials could transform our understanding of painting and challenge the physical constraints of colour, canvas, and horizontal/vertical surface. In an era dominated by Abstract Expressionism and Informel, Manzoni disassociated the painted surface from the active participation of the artist. As Manzoni propounded in 1960: "I am quite unable to understand those painters who, whilst declaring an active interest in modern problems, still continue even today to confront a painting as if it was a surface to be filled with colour and forms...Why shouldn't this surface be freed. Why not seek to discover the unlimited meaning of total space, of pure and absolute light" (the artist in: 'Free Dimension' in Azimuth no. 2, Milan, 1960). Though Manzoni experimented with different materials throughout the early 1960s, including substances as disparate as bread rolls, rabbit fur, gravel and wool, it is the iconic kaolin works that most effectively express his aim to eradicate any sense of personality or gesture.\nThe magnificently rich and chromatically homogenous surface evokes the powdery fragility of plaster as well as the cold solidity of marble. The absorption and reflection of natural light by the kaolin folds, accentuated by their angular striated ridges, evoke the tactile creases of sculpted Renaissance drapery, while the intricate surface complexity creates dramatic chiaroscuro to seduce our eye, as dark and light are strikingly juxtaposed. Seemingly white, the kaolin functions in removing colour whilst adding weight, imbuing these works with a certain sense of monumentality abstractly evocative of classical marble statuary. Nonetheless if this work evokes the monumental art of the past, it is testament only to the insularity of art itself, a purely visual language of resplendent luminous materiality.\nDuring a tragically brief life cut short at the age of only thirty, Manzoni adopted a revolutionary conceptual approach to making and viewing art, emphasising the surface and materials as the true subject of the work. In the creation of the Achromes, Manzoni awakened an area of creativity in which the painting's subject was its own self-generating form; in 1960 he wrote: "The artist has achieved integral freedom; pure material becomes pure energy; all problems of artistic criticism are surmounted; everything is permitted" (Piero Manzoni, 'Free Dimension', Azimuth, no. 2, Milan 1960). Manzoni's prescient innovations anticipated both Conceptualism and Arte Povera, while his artistic legacy, enshrined by iconic works such as the present Achrome, enduringly persists as a revolutionary and insurmountable presence within contemporary art today.
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medium

Kaolin on canvas

creator

Piero Manzoni

condition

Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate. Condition: This work is in very good and original condition. Close inspection reveals a few hairline drying cracks towards the base of some of the larger canvas folds, which are inherent to the artist's choice of media. There are also some light and unobtrusive rub marks to the top ridges of some of the more pronounced canvas folds. No restoration is visible under ultraviolet light. "In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."

dimensions

100 by 80cm.

exhibition

Turin, Galleria Il Punto, Zero Avantgard, 1965 Turin, Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Il piano nobile, 1989

literature

Freddy Battino and Luca Palazzoli, Piero Manzoni Catalogue Raisonné, Milan 1991, p. 281, no. 374, illustrated Germano Celant, Piero Manzoni Catalogo Generale, Vol. I, Milan 2004, p. 84, no. 261, illustrated in colour Exhibition Catalogue, Naples, Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina, Piero Manzoni, 2007, p. 154, no. 71, illustrated in colour Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Gagosian Gallery, Piero Manzoni: A Retrospective, 2009, p. 139, no. 98, illustrated in colour

provenance

Galleria Il Punto, Turin Galleria Notizie, Turin Camana Collection, Alpignano (acquired directly from the above in 1966) Sale: Sotheby's, London, Contemporary Art, 10 February 2005, Lot 37 Private Collection, Tokyo Sale: Sotheby's, London, 20th Century Italian Art, 15 October 2007, Lot 31 Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

creator_nationality_dates

1933 - 1963


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

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