Piero Manzoni


The Italian artist Piero Manzoni was, and still is, a pre-eminent exponent of conceptual art; a vein of art where ideas is given priority over method and media.

Manzoni created works of art out of materials such as cotton wool, cotton, and straw, he left his fingerprints on eggs, he captured his breath and canned his own faeces and sold them as art. The works that made Piero Manzoni famous and infamous were, and still are, provoking and transgressive in nature. Today, HEART owns the world's largest public collection of works by Piero Manzoni.


Piero Manzoni Merde dArtistePiero Manzoni (1933-1963). Foto: Ole Bagger


Piero Manzoni grew up in town of Soncino in Northern Italy as the son of an aristocratic and affluent family. Financially, he enjoyed greater freedom than many of his colleagues. He lived life to the full, but excessive consumption of alcohol led him to contract a liver complaint which caused his death at the tender age of 29. Despite his far too early death he succeeded in carving a name for himself as an important, trailblazing re-inventor of modern art.

He began painting figurative works at the age of 17, but would later move on to make a radical break with traditional modes of expression. He wanted to escape from figures and colours and wished to entirely empty the work, removing all vestiges of content. The material became the main feature, as did the idea or concept itself. He wished to create works that were neutral, that did not spark off any associations; rather, they should express total emptiness.

The result was a long line of Achromes, colourless images created using materials such as cotton, cotton wool, or fur. Other works include pieces made from string, containers containing lines made on paper of varying lengths, a wooden plinth for standing on, a 7,200m line encased in a container made of lead, and a base which turns the entire globe into the work of art. The works are provocative statements, challenging traditional art and conventional perceptions of what art is.

Piero Manzoni became a major inspirational figure for the artists of the generations that followed. His works have had a tremendous impact on art history and are now housed in museum collections worldwide. The fact that HEART now owns a unique collection of works by Manzoni can be entirely credited to the art aficionado and shirt manufacturer Aage Damgaard, who invited Piero Manzoni to Herning on two occasions.


Manzoni aageAage Damgaard and Piero Manzoni looking at Achrome, 1961. Foto: Ole Bagger


At the shirt factory Angli in Herning, owner Aage Damgaard employed artists to create art, granting them full artistic freedom. One of those artists was Paul Gadegaard, who was associated with the factory for 10 years. After having seen examples of Manzoni's work in Amsterdam, Gadegaard introduced Aage Damgaard to his work. Manzoni stayed in Herning 1960 and 1961, creating some of his most notable works during those sojourns.

The year 1960 saw the creation of a number of achromes, some created from pieces of flannelette sown together, others created from sheets of cotton wool treated with cobalt chloride, causing it to change its colour with fluctuations in temperature. It was also the year in which he created Linea Lunga 7200 metri (Line 7200m) at the printing works of the local newspaper, Herning Avis. Manzoni had previously exhibited 9 lines, drawn on paper of varying lengths and encased in black cardboard boxes, at an exhibition at Galerie Køpcke in Copenhagen.

In Herning he created a line of 7200 metres in length, drawn on a continuous roll of newsprint paper. Linea Lunga was created over the course of an afternoon at the printing works and required the construction of a customised hand-operated roller in order to enable Manzoni to match the pace and ensure an unbroken line. Assistants helped turn the roller, and a few other onlookers attended the project, including Gadegaard. This is to say that only very people have seen this line in reality. It was subsequently placed within a large lead container, now on display at HEART.

Here, audiences can also find the works Magisk Sokkel nr. 2 (Magic Base no. 2) and Socle du Monde, Hommage á Galilei (Base of the World, Homage to Galileo), which were created during Manzoni's second stay in Herning in 1961. The latter work, Socle du Monde, is a base or pedestal placed upside down. With this simple move Manzoni turned the entire world into a work of art, with its base located in Herning. Manzoni's stays in Herning were of brief duration, but nevertheless they were important to him. In a letter to Gadegaard he even stated that he was in Paradise.

He was comfortable in this small Danish town which offered him complete artistic freedom. And this fruitful collaboration Aage Damgaard is the reason why HEART now boasts the largest public collection of works by Manzoni.



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Piero Manzoni CV