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Foundation for Piero Manzoni Goes to Hauser & Wirth

Piero Manzoni, Merda d’artista (Artist’s Shit), n. 20, 53, 68, 78, 80, 1961, tin can and printed paper.


Piero Manzoni may not have lived to be 30, but he produced one of art history’s funniest gestures: Merda d’artista (Artist’s Shit), a 1961 project for which the Italian artist supposedly canned his own excrement. Reports from more recent years claim that some of the cans may have been filled with plaster, not poop, but Manzoni’s anti-art moves extended beyond that one conceit to others including abstract paintings made without paint.

Hauser & Wirth, the gallery with spaces in New York, Los Angeles, Zurich, and London as well as Somerset, England, and Gstaad, Switzerland, will now be home to works of the kind with the announcement of new representation for Fondazione Piero Manzoni, the family-run Italian foundation that oversees the artist’s work. A solo show at the gallery’s 22nd Street New York space is slated for fall 2018, and the gallery and the foundation will work together to create a new version of Manzoni’s catalogue raisonné to be published online, likely in the next two years.

In the late 1950s, Manzoni began rethinking the oil-on-canvas formula for painting with his “Achromes” series, which relied on kaolin, a white clay mineral, for abstract effects. Some works resembled rumpled fabrics; others included rows of bread rolls and cotton puffs as comments on overproduction. He was part of a generation of Italian artists that also included Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana, both of whom were interested in damaging and destroying canvases.

With Enrico Castellani, Manzoni also cofounded Azimut gallery and Azimuth magazine, which brought work by avant-garde artists—from Samuel Beckett to Robert Rauschenberg—to the attention of Italian artists. The space and publication were the subject of a show at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in 2014.

In the later years of his short career, Manzoni, who died at the age of 29, moved on to creating conceptual gestures. In addition to Merda d’artista, Manzoni also signed a nude woman and called her a “living sculpture,” and breathed into balloons for a series of sculptures. These cheeky meditations on authorship and the art market from the early 1960s resonate today, according to Marc Payot, partner and vice president of Hauser & Wirth.

“That’s almost 60 years ago—incredibly early to think about the system, the art market, what art is, how can something be defined as art,” Payot told ARTnews.

Work by Manzoni, who died in 1963, has been shown frequently in New York, where the artist was the focus of a Germano Celant–curated retrospective at Gagosian Gallery in 2009 and has featured in museums and other galleries including Sperone Westwater. But Payot said there is an opportunity for a new audience for Manzoni’s actions, paintings, and sculptures.

“[Manzoni] already has quite a strong following in American collections and museums,” Payot said. “But what I think is important is engaging with a new, younger crowd of critics, curators, and thinkers, and really bringing this to life today.”

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