Achrome with Bread Rolls by Piero Manzoni

Piero Manzoni

Achrome with Bread Rolls, 1962, Kaolin, bread rolls on panel, © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome; Photo: © Christie's Images / Bridgeman Images

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By Bread Alone

Commentary by

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.

 

References

Mansoor. Jaleh. 2001. ‘We Want to Organise Disintegration’, October 95: 28–53


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