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Milan fetes art of Piero Manzoni, 50 years after death

Arte Povera icon's work on show through June 2 at Palazzo Reale

19 March, 17:52
Milan fetes art of Piero Manzoni, 50 years after death (By Elisa Cecchi) (ANSA) - Milan, March 19 - A retrospective on artist Piero Manzoni (1933-1963), a pivotal player in Italy's postwar avant-garde, is opening on March 26 at Milan's Palazzo Reale.

On through June 2, the show features over 100 works of art from Manzoni's short but intense career as a progenitor of the home-grown version of Conceptualism, known as Arte Povera.

Born in 1933 in the northern town of Soncino near Cremona to an aristocratic family, Manzoni, whose full name was Count Meroni Manzoni de Chiosca e Poggiolo, moved to Milan in the 1950s where he became best known for his provocative work. Manzoni mocked values and commercial art while embracing mystery in his work. In 1961, he canned what could be his own feces.

Ninety small containers of uniform weight - each sealed with the text 'Merda d'Artista' (Artist's Shit) - were priced to sell at the market value of the same weight in gold.

The substance inside the sealed cans has been the subject of intense debate - an artistic puzzle.

He became a member of the Nuclear art movement founded in 1956 by Sergio Dangelo and Enrico Baj and created the Azimuth magazine with influential painter Enrico Castellani, who contributed to the development of avant-garde art in Europe in the 1950s and 60s.

The artist was also very close to Lucio Fontana, a leading figure in Arte Povera.

Manzoni was initially influenced by styles of abstract painting that reflected the tense climate of Cold War Europe, such as Art Informel and the geometric abstraction championed by Piet Mondrian.

Yet Manzoni, as shown by the Milan exhibit, moved beyond that horizon - one of many artists worldwide bent on transforming art as they had known it.

And as Fontana was slashing paintings with a knife, Manzoni created 'Achromes', paintings made by dipping canvas in liquid clay, then folding the cloth and letting it harden. He made other Achromes from cloth and cotton with the wildest paintings, called "hairy pictures", were made from clumps of flyaway vinyl fiber.

The Milan show also features his 'Corpi d'Aria', rubber balloons he introduced in 1959 which the buyer could inflate or have Manzoni do it, with an extra charge for his "artist's breath".

There are also 'Autentificazioni', or authentications, in which he wrote the first and second names of people in fake documents, and the 'Base del mondo', the 'World's Pedestal' which is installed upside down on the ground.

Manzoni also undertook many interactive projects.

For a 1960 gallery solo, he exhibited hard-boiled eggs stamped with his fingerprints. The opening-night crowd ate the whole show. A year later, he made "magic bases" in wood on which anyone could climb to become a living sculpture and the artist offered to sign a body part. He died in 1963 of a heart attack at his atelier in Milan, as his intense life of work and exhibiting was in full swing. He was 30.

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