In the past few years, the Gagosian Gallery has mounted numerous museum quality exhibitions that bring together rarely seen important works by important artists. Through March 21, the 24th Street gallery features a remarkable retrospective of the work of Piero Manzoni, the young Italian artist who, in his short life during the late 50s and early 60s, created a rich body of radical work. Curated by Germano Celant, the leading authority on Manzoni, this extensive and beautifully installed survey is a revelation for anyone who knows Manzoni primarily for his Merda d'Artista (little cans of artist's shit, sold by weight according to the current price of gold), and a once in a lifetime treat for anyone who has only seen rare glimpses of Manzoni's work. I have often regarded Manzoni as an Italian counterpart to Yves Klein, and in many respects this show affirms that assessment. But I think Manzoni's work ends up being somewhat broader in scope, and having a better sense of humor. From his 1957 introduction of the Achromes -- beautiful raw plaster colored physical surfaces made of kaolin soaked canvas -- Manzoni's range rapidly expanded through the remaining six years of his life.
Piero Manzoni, Achrome, 1961-62, 24 3/16 x 18 1/8 inches, artificial fiber
The Achromes evolved wonderfully into eccentric objects made of a variety of sensuous materials, and his flair for dramatic gestures led to eloquent and inclusive sculptural proposals, including his Base of the World -- a huge steel pedestal, installed upside down in the landscape, rendering the whole earth as a sculptural object. It's easy to dismiss such projects as mere grandstanding, but we see in this show that these gestures were grounded in Manzoni's attempt to embrace a conception of art as a playground of ideas and questions about the nature of perception and reality.