Unlike Christ, who refused to transform stone into bread (Matthew 4:4), Piero Manzoni decisively transformed bread into stone.
His 1961 work Achrome with Bread Rolls is formed of a tightly-packed grid of bread rolls which, when hung on a wall, seems as monumental as a marble frieze. Manzoni covered each roll in a slurry of kaolin, a naturally white clay, and let them harden before affixing them to a white painted panel. The pure whiteness of the undulating surface heightens the relief. Irregular knotted forms nestle side by side, pulling the eye along the uniform rows and between the round forms, down to shadows cast on the flat panel surface.
Manzoni produced a number of Achromes during his short career, each composed of natural or artificial materials chosen to create highly tactile surfaces. Evacuated of colour, clay-soaked bread, canvas dipped in gesso, bleached cotton balls, and raw fibreglass deny the representational or expressive aims of perspectival figurative painting. Meaning in these works is not about representation but about an evocation of the physical presence of the everyday object that engages the body as much as the eyes.
In this respect, Manzoni also challenges the visual abstraction of the Modernist monochrome through his celebration of the material world. Smell, touch, and taste are activated by the bread rolls, which are ubiquitous on Italian tables. Viewers recall piles of the familiar knotted buns stuffed with paper-thin swathes of mortadella, or pulled apart to soak up pools of tomato sauce from a plate of pasta.
And yet Manzoni frustrates the appetite. Instead of a soft, floury surface, viewers are confronted with a smooth hardened shell: cold liquid clay absorbed into the substance of the bread and dried to an inedible stone-like object. Eucharistic transformation of bread into the body of Christ is upended here: bread is transformed into Art.
But if Manzoni plays the role of the provoking heretic and omnipotent god-figure in this work, his devilry deals in the frustration of desire, rather than its satisfaction.
Mansoor. Jaleh. 2001. ‘We Want to Organise Disintegration’, October 95: 28–53
4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. 3And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written,
‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”
5Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will give his angels charge of you,’
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”
7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! for it is written,
‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’ ”
11Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.
12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.
4And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit 2for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’ ” 5And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours.” 8And Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘You shall worship the Lord your God,
9And he took him to Jerusalem, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here; 10for it is written,
‘He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you,’
12And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’ ” 13And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.