Piero Manzoni (Italian, 1933–1963) was one of the precursors of Conceptual Art. Born in Soncino, Italy, Manzoni was a self-taught artist and among the first to question the nature of the art object, creating shocking pieces that constantly provoked controversy within the Italian art community.

In 1956, Manzoni signed two manifestos asserting his dedication to greater artistic freedom, and participated in the Nuclear Art movement with painter and sculptor Alberto Burri. In both response and homage to the blue monochromes of Yves Klein, Manzoni created the Achromes series in 1959. By pasting various materials (cotton, rocks, straw, and other natural elements) onto a monochrome canvas, he sought to transform matter into “pure energy.” In his Lines series of highly Conceptual works, he traced a pencil line on a strip of paper, writing the date and length of the line and rolling it up in a tube for display.

In 1961, Manzoni created his famous Artist’s shit series—creating works advertising his own excrement in a can—as an ironic reflection on the relationship between an artist’s body, his art, and the contemporary art market.

Manzoni died in Milan in 1963.

Timeline

1933
Born in Soncino, Italy
1951
Enrolled at the Accademia di Brera to study law, Milan, Italy
1953
Began private lessons in painting
1950–1954
Focused on conventional landscapes and portraits
1954
Changed studies at Acadamia di Brera from law to art and philosophy at first in Rome and later in Milan, but drops out
1954
Began experimenting with oils, plaster of Paris and enamel
1951–1955
Turned to making works with impressions left by keys, scissors, etc., which had been dipped in tar
1957
Manzoni and Fontana joined the group Gruppo Nucleare
1957
With the influence of Yves Klein, Manzoni began to make white paintings which he called Achromes
1957
First one-man exhibition in the foyer of the Teatro delle Maschere, Milan, Italy
1961
Manzoni began signing living bodies, which he proceeds to certify as works of art
1961–1962
Traveled to Germany, Yugoslavia, Belgium and the Netherlands
1963
Died in his studio in the Via Fiori Chiari, Milan, Italy

Exhibitions

2011
Manzoni: Azimut, Gagosian, London, UK
2009
Piero Manzoni: A Retrospective, Gagosian, New York, USA
2007
L’immagine del vuoto, Museo Cantonale d’Arte, Lugano, Italy
2007
Piero Manzoni e Albisola, Palazzo Reale, Milano, Italy
2006
La Scultura Italiana del XX secolo, Fondazione Arnaldo Pomodoro, Milano, Italy
2006
Zero, Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf, Germany
2006
Il modo Italiano, The Montreal Museum of fine Arts, Montreal, Canada
2005
Beyond Painting, Tate Modern, London, UK
2005
When humor becomes painful, Migros Museum, Zurich, Switzerland
2004
Beyond Geometry: Experiments in Form, LACMA, Los Angeles, USA
2003
3 x Monochrom. Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Pino Pinelli, Kreissparkasse, Rottweil, Germany
2002
Themes and Variations.Post-war Art from the Guggenheim Collections, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venezia, Italy
2002
De Gustibus, Palazzo delle Papesse, Siena, Italy
2001
Ironia, Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, Spain
2000
Against Nature: Alberto Burri, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Sperone Westwater, New York, USA
1998
Piero Manzoni, Serpentine Gallery, London, UK
1996
La metamorfosi del corpo. Arte Italiana da De Chirico a Manzoni, Palazzina dei Giardini, Modena, Italy
1995
Piero Manzoni: Line Drawings, The Musum of contemporary Art, Los Angeles, USA
1994–1995
The Italian Metamorphosis 1943-1968, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York,USA
1992
Joseph Beuys, Piero Manzoni, Noriyuki Haraguchi, Akira Ikeda gallery, Tokyo, Japan
1991
Piero Manzoni, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France
1989
Italian Art in the 20th century, Royal academy of Arts, London, UK
1988
Zero, un movimento europeo. Collección Lenz Schönberg, Fundación Juan March, Madrid, Spain
1987
Grande Circo: 1973-1997. 15 anni di arte italiana alle fiere europee, Studio la Città, Verona, Italy
1986
Piero Manzoni. Disegni inediti 1960, Sala del consiglio, Perugia, Italy
1985
Azimuth & Azimut, Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea, Milano, Italy
1983
L’Informale in Italia, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Bologna, Italy
1979–1980
Zero Internationaal Antwerpen, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerpen, Belgium
1977
Piero Manzoni, Centro Culturale Anconadue, Milano, Italy
1974
Piero Manzoni. Paintings, Reliefs & Objects, The Tate Gallery, London, UK
1972
Piero Manzoni; De Europa; Operazione Vesuvio, Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, USA
1963
Piero Manzoni, Galerie Smith, Brussels, Belgium
1963
Zero, der neue Idealismus, Galerie Diogenes, Berlin, Germany
1962
Gruppo Zero, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
1961
Manzoni, Castellani, Castellani, Galleria La Tartaruga, Rome, Italy
1960
A new artistic conception, New Vision Centre, London, England
1959
Bonalumi, Castellani, Manzoni, Bonalumi, Castel, Galerie Kasper, Lausanne, Switzerland
1959
Piero Manzoni: Rilievi, Galerie De Posthoorn, The Hague, The Netherlands
1959
Piero Manzoni, Galleria La Parete, Milan, Italy
1958
Piero Manzoni, Galleria Pater, Milan, Italy
1958
Piero Manzoni, Rotterdamsche Kunstkring, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
1958
Fontana, Baj, Manzoni, Fontana, Baj, Galleria Bergamo, Bergamo & Circulo di Cultura, Bologna, Italy
1957
Manzoni, Verga, Sordini, Verga, Sordini, Galleria Pater, Milan, Italy
1957
Piero Manzoni, Foyer del Teatro delle Maschere, Milan, Italy