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Piero Manzoni

Italian Painter, Sculptor, Conceptual and Performance Artist

Piero Manzoni Photo
Movements and Styles: Performance Art, Body Art

Born: July 13, 1933 - Soncino, Italy

Died: February 6, 1963 - Milan, Italy

"Why not to set free these forms? Why not trying to uncover the infinite meaning of absolute space, the meaning of pure and absolute light?"

Summary of Piero Manzoni

Piero Manzoni was an Italian of noble birth now best known for canning and selling his own excrement in the name of art. Irreverent, subversive and committed to the tearing down of the established rules of artistic production, Manzoni's body of work spans monochromatic paintings, sculptures, and conceptual art objects, all of which maintain a sense of humour and mischievous satire.

Despite this attitude and generally prankish demeanour, the ideas outlined by Manzoni and his use of the body (both his own and others) as a medium through which to create art has proved to be immensely influential after his unexpected death at the age of 29. Performance, Land and Conceptual Art movements have all built on aspects of his work and persona, expanding on key concepts and profoundly altering the development of modern artistic practices in doing so.

Key Ideas

Manzoni's work is audaciously irreverent and humorous, often using a simple and transgressive concept to provoke a reaction in its viewer. These concepts (that at an artist can claim anything as their art, or that an artist makes something valuable by signing it, for example) often contain an implicit criticism of the consumerism of post-WWII Europe. For Manzoni, it is the direct connection of an object to an artist (usually via direct touch) through which this significance is imparted.
For Manzoni, art exists in anything that the artist claims. The challenge this poses to the art market, and the often-ridiculous situations that such an idea may result in (like as the sale of human excrement at the price of the same weight of gold) reveals the subversion at the heart of much of Manzoni's work.
The post-war European avant-garde that he was a part of was profoundly inspiring to Manzoni, and his work often reflected the work of the artists around him. This magpie-like approach to influence from friends helped solidify several innovative artistic techniques (such as the use of a pure field of colour in paintings) as characteristic of the period.
The idea of the body as art object, and bodily processes as able to be repurposed as artistic ones, is key to Manzoni's practice. For Manzoni, the body and its processes are as valid as artistic materials as any others. This would go on to influence Performance Art in particular, with artists using their own bodies as a material that was seen as able to resist marketisation and subvert commercial recognition.
Piero Manzoni Photo

Piero Manzoni was born in Soncino, a village in the Po valley near Cremona in 1933. His father was Egisto Manzoni, an Italian noble (the Conte di Chiosca and Poggiolo), and his mother, Valeria Meroni, was from a well-known family in Soncino. He was the eldest of five children with two younger brothers, Giuseppe and Giacomo, and two sisters Elena and Mariucca. Piero spent most of his childhood in Milan where he attended the prestigious Jesuit school Liceo Leone XIII. During the summers and whilst on other school breaks he would often spend time at the family house near Lake Garda as well as at a sea side resort on the Ligurian Riviera. At the age of 15 his father died from a heart attack, with Manzoni taking to art shortly after.

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