This biography, reconstructed through the study of and research into documents and eye-witness accounts, covers the principal phases in Piero Manzoni’s life and has been curated by Flaminio Gualdoni.
For further information please see: F. Gualdoni, Piero Manzoni. An Artist’s Life, Gagosian, New York, 2019.
Piero Manzoni was born in Soncino, in the province of Cremona, on the 13th of July 1933.continue...
Piero Manzoni’s childhood was spent in a number of key locations. The first was the country house at Soprazocco, acquired in 1903 by his grandfather Piero Meroni. A village in the municipality of Gavardo, Soprazocco is situated in the province of Brescia, at the foot of the Valle Sabbia, not far from Lakes Garda and Idro. Together with his younger siblings Maria Melania, known as Mariuccia, born in 1937 (died 2013), Elena, 1939, Giacomo, 1940 and Giuseppe, 1946, Piero spent much of his summer holidays there.continue...
Manzoni attended middle school and the classical high school at the Leone XIII Catholic Institute, developed a passion for science fiction and crime novels, listened to classical music and jazz and from 1950 took private lessons in painting, learning the basic rudimentary techniques. He later also briefly attended the free school of the nude at the Brera Fine Arts Academy.continue...
Piero Manzoni’s Application to the Rector of the Università degli Studi of Rome for the admission to 5 exams, September 5, 1955
In 1955, Manzoni moved to Rome where he enrolled on the degree course in Philosophy but at the end of the year transferred to the University of Milan.
He began to frequent the Milanese art scene assiduously.continue...
1956 FIRST STEPS IN THE ART WORLD
Together with Sordini and Verga Manzoni debuted on the 11th of August 1956 at the 4ª Fiera di Soncino (4th Fair of Soncino) at the town’s Castello Sforzesco, a section of which was the 4ª Fiera Mercato. Mostra d’Arte Contemporanea (4th Market Fair. Exhibition of Contemporary Art).continue...
1957 FIRST GROUP EXHIBITIONS
Invitation to the exhibition Baj, Dangelo, D’Arena, Fontana, Gracco, Manzoni, Munari, Orsenigo, Pomodoro, Galerie 17, Munich, 1957
Manzoni participated on the 15th of January in a group exhibition with Fontana, Baj, Dangelo, Bruno Munari, Arnaldo Pomodoro and others organized by Luca Scacchi Gracco at Galerie 17 in Munich.continue...
1957 FIRST MANIFESTOS
Manzoni, who now had a studio in Via Montebello, was involved in the drafting of increasingly ambitious theoretical texts that he was to publish that year. On the occasion of the exhibition at the Pater gallery he presented the printed manifesto “L’arte non è vera creazione…" (Art is not true creation…) which was also signed by Sordini and Verga.continue...
1957 ALBISOLA MARINA AND AGAINST THE STYLE
On the 1st of August, he distributed the manifesto “Albisola Marina”, published on the occasion of a group show in the Ligurian town, signed by Manzoni with Biasi, Colucci, Sordini and Verga.continue...
1957 FIRST SOLO EXHIBITION
The first stages in his path of individuation comprised the minor solo show that Manzoni inaugurated on the 23rd of October in the foyer of the Teatro alle Maschere and the one that opened on the 3rd of December at the Galleria del Corriere della Provincia di Como, on the occasion of which he published the most accomplished, thoughtful text from this period of activism, “Prolegomeni a un’attività artistica” (Prolegomena to an artistic activity).continue...
1958 “ATTEMPTED PALE SURFACES OF AN ABSOLUTE WHITE”
The exhibition Fontana Baj Manzoni opened on the 4th of January at the Galleria Bergamo in Bergamo and then moved to the Galleria del Circolo di Cultura in Bologna on the 23rd of March. The introductory text was by Luciano Anceschi, a great scholar of aesthetics and the founder two years earlier of the avant-garde periodical Il Verri.continue...
1958 “THE KAOLIN”
The split with the Nuclear group was definitive but hardly brusque: on the 27th of May Manzoni again exhibited in L’Avanguardia at the Galleria Montenapoleone in Milan with Fontana, Baj and earlier exponents of the historic avant-garde such as Francis Picabia and Antonio Sant’Elia, while in September he edited, together with Baj and Dangelo, the third issue of the periodical Il Gesto.continue...
1958 THE DUTCH ZERO-GROUP
On the 26th of July, Manzoni left for Rotterdam, where he struck up friendships with Gust Romijn, an artist with past links to CoBrA and Hans Sonnenberg, a dealer and moving spirit behind the future Dutch Zero-groep. He also came into contact with Jan J. Schoonhoven and, later on, with Henk Peeters, who in 1960 founded Nul-beweging.continue...
1959 GERMAN ZERO
The relationship with Sonnenberg led on the 1st of July to Manzoni’s participation in the exhibition Zero by the dutch group at the Rotterdamsche Kunstkring (the exhibition was also to be staged on the 12th of September at the G-58 Hessenhuis in Antwerp and on the 24th of October at the Galleria Appia Antica, Rome). A few days later, thanks to Heinz Mack and Otto Piene, founders of the German ZERO group instead, whom he had met through Peeters, he took part to Dynamo 1 at the Galerie Boukes in Wiesbaden.continue...
1959 NEW DEVELOPMENTS
That Bonalumi and Castellani were Manzoni’s new travelling companions of choice was clear from the exhibitions Bonalumi Castellani Manzoni at Prisma on the 16th of February and the Galleria Appia Antica in Rome on the 3rd of April, this last introduced by his poet friend Leo Paolazzi, who was subsequently to use the pen name Antonio Porta.continue...
1959 AZIMUTH AND AZIMUT
While on the 8th of September a new edition of Bonalumi Castellani Manzoni was presented at the Galerie Kasper in Lausanne, which also published the magazine Art actuel international, on the 3rd of September the official announcement was made regarding the launch in Milan of the magazine Azimuth, edited by Manzoni and Castellani.continue...
1960 THE NEW ARTISTIC CONCEPTION
The 4th of January saw the inauguration of the group show at the Azimut gallery La nuova concezione artistica (The New Artistic Conception), also exhibiting along with Castellani and Manzoni were Klein, Mack, Kilian Breier, Oskar Holweck and Almir Mavignier, accompanied shortly afterwards by the second - and final - issue of Azimuth.continue...
1960 AZIMUTH 2
In Azimuth the texts were variously in Italian, French, English and German, evidence of the international scope adopted by the exhibition at Azimut gallery. Manzoni published a new theoretical text, the first for almost two years, that was entitled “Libera dimensione” (Free Dimension).continue...
1960 LAST EXHIBITIONS AT AZIMUT GALLERY
Overall, Manzoni exhibited in three solo shows at Azimut as well as in group shows (22 December 1959, 4 January and 25 May 1960).continue...
1960 INTERNATIONAL ECHO
The international impact was notable: in July, “Libera dimensione” was translated into Japanese in issue No. 7 of The Geijutsu-Shincho, a magazine that had already dedicated an article to Manzoni; after exhibiting on the 25th of February with Bonalumi, Castellani, Peters and others in Neue Malerei at the Galerie des Kleintheater in Berne, with exponents of the Dutch Zero/Nul group, the 1st of March saw Manzoni make his London debut at the New Vision Centre in Castellani Manzoni. A new artistic conception.continue...
Linea lunga 7200 metri (Line 7200 Meters Long), July 4, 1960, ink on paper, zinc cylinder, lead, 66 × ø 96 cm
On the occasion of the exhibition at the Galerie Køpcke, he came into contact with Aage Damgaard, an enlightened and passionate patron, the owner at Herning, in the middle of Jutland, of the Angli shirt factory: Damgaard provided Manzoni with space, technical equipment and staff to allow him to experiment freely.continue...
1960 EXHIBITION IN ITALY AND ALL OVER THE WORLD
“Manifesto contro niente per l’Esposizione Internazionale di niente” (Manifesto against Nothing for the International Exhibition of Nothing), 1960
In this period there was also a form of overtly Dada “non-exhibition” promoted by the editor of the magazine Panderma Carl Laszlo, which left a trace in the “Manifesto contro niente per l’Esposizione Internazionale di niente” (Manifesto against Nothing for the International Exposition of Nothing), published in Basel: “Sale of nothing, numbered and signed. The price list is available to the public. At the inauguration no one will speak. Nothing is reproduced in this catalogue.” It was signed by Laszlo, Manzoni, Castellani, Mack, Piene and others.continue...
1960 IMMEDIATE PROJECTS
In the second half of the year, Manzoni announced to his German friends, now definitively preferred to the Dutch group with which he nonetheless continued to collaborate sporadically, a number of Progetti immediati (Immediate Projects) that were to be published in issue no. 3 of ZERO in July 1961.continue...
1961 LIVING SCULPTURES
Piero Manzoni signing a Scultura vivente (Living Sculpture) for Filmgiornale SEDI, Milan, January 13, 1961
On the 13th of January 1961, Manzoni organized a new action with Maccentelli, the Opere Vive (Living works) or Sculture viventi (Living sculptures), in which he signed the plinth and the body of real life models posing as sculptures. Another facet of this idea was the Base magica (Magic base), a support standing on which anyone may be considered to be a sculpture by Manzoni.continue...
1961 SPRING PROJECTS
Tavole d’accertamento. Gorgona (Progetto 1) [Works of Verification. Gorgona (Project 1)], 1961, 6 sheets, ink on paper, 15 × 14 cm
Josip Vaništa, an exponent of the Croat avant-garde group Gorgona, asked him for projects for the overtly experimental magazine of the same name. Sharing the title Tavole d’accertamento (Works of Verification) they remained at the proposal stage and involved a sequence of capital letters of the alphabet repeatedly reproduced until the occupied the full page; a series of fingerprints from both hands, each of which occupying a page, and a line running from page to page throughout the magazine.continue...
1961 ARTIST’S SHIT
Also in May, Manzoni created ninety examples of Merda d’artista (Artist’s Shit), sealed cans with a diameter of six centimetres carrying a label reading, in Italian, English, French and German, the title Merda d’artista. Contenuto netto gr. 30. Conservata al naturale. Prodotta ed inscatolata nel maggio 1961 (Artist’s Shit. Contents Net Gr 30. Freshly preserved, produced and tinned in May 1961) the price of which was fixed at that of thirty grams of gold.continue...
1961 SOCLE DU MONDE AND MORE
Late in July, on the 24th, Manzoni created two Linee in Milan of 1,000 and 1,140 metres, to be enclosed like the Linea lunga 7200 metri from Herning, in metal containers. He presented them on the 23rd of October at the XII Premio Lissone at the Palazzo del Mobile in Lissone, at which he was joined by Bonalumi, Castellani and Dada Maino under the Gruppo Milano 61 umbrella.continue...
1962 ZERO AND NUL
Manzoni opened a new studio in Via Fiori Chiari 16 and met Nanda Vigo, with whom he established a relationship. Manzoni’s principal focus was now the German ZERO group, as testified on the 13th of January by the exhibition ZERO at the Galerie Ad Libitum, Antwerp.continue...
1962 PUBLISHING PROJECTS
Two major publishing projects were also completed in this period. Vanni Scheiwiller published the 8 Tavole di accertamento (8 Works of Verification) in Milan, a portfolio of eight photolithographs in sixty examples, which concluded a path traced from the late 1950s, with a text by Agnetti.continue...
1962 NEW MATERIALS AGAIN
In the Achromes of this period, the iterative visual cell was composed of real bread rolls, the Milanese michette, to be precise. In others he used pebbles or expanded polystyrene balls. White always overlaid everything, desensitizing and rendering everything a surface that was both very present and estranged. Still others were composed of packs of newsprint or wrapping paper sealed with cords, lead and sealing wax as if they were parcels, and presented in pairs.continue...
On the 6th of February, Piero Manzoni died of a heart attack in his studio in Via Fiori Chiari 16, Milan.continue...