press release

The exhibition AZIMUT/H. Continuity and Newness is a tribute to the post World War II neo-avantgarde in Italy, currently of widespread interest to critics, curators and the general public, and in particular to Azimuth, the gallery and the review founded in 1959 in Milan by Enrico Castellani (b. 1930) and Piero Manzoni (1933–1963). The exhibition reveals Azimuth’s central position in the panorama of Italian and international art of those years: like a creative earthquake it was one of the great catalysts of Italian and European visual and conceptual culture of the time and an intellectual bridge between a new, revolutionary generation and the most contemporary developments in art.

PIERO MANZONI (Soncino [CR] 1933 – Milan 1963)

Piero Manzoni was born in Soncino (Province of Cremona) on 13 July 1933; following his high classical studies with the Jesuits of the Istituto Leone XIII in Milan, he frequented sporadically the faculties of law and philosophy at universities in Milan and Rome. For several years he summered in Albisola, in Liguria, a resort and destination for artists such as Asger Jorn and Lucio Fontana. In 1956 Manzoni’s debut as an artist was at the 4th Fiera mercato. Mostra d’arte contemporanea at the Castello Sforzesco of Soncino. A few months later he exhibited at the Premio di pittura San Fedele in Milan; in these years his paintings were characterized by anthropomorphic shapes and imprints of objects. Thus began an intense period of activity, participating in group shows, co-signing manifestos with artists such as Enrico Baj, Guido Biasi, Ettore Sordini, and Angelo Verga, and participating in the Movimento Arte Nucleare, from which however he broke early in 1958. At the end of 1957 Manzoni made his first ‘white pictures’, subsequently known as Achromes, first with gesso and then with kaolin and wrinkled canvas or in squares. He exhibited with Agostino Bonalumi and Enrico Castellani several times and began his collaboration, which would continue in the years that followed, with the Zero Group of Düsseldorf and with other European neo-avantgardes. The Galleria Azimut was inaugurated In 1959 with an exhibition of Manzoni’s ‘lines’. The gallery, as well as the review Azimuth, of which only two issues would be published, was planned and promoted by Manzoni and Enrico Castellani. The Galleria Azimut exhibited work by, among others, Agostino Bonalumi, Enrico Castellani, Gianni Colombo, Dadamaino, Gabriele Devecchi, Yves Klein, Heinz Mack, Almir Mavignier, and Günther Uecker. The second issue of Azimuth (1960) published ‘Libera dimensione’, one of Manzoni’s fundamental texts. His series of Bodies of Air (white balloons to be inflated and placed on a tripod) date from 1959, and from 1960 he made the Artist’s Breath series (white inflated balloons on a wooden base). In the summer of 1960 he sojourned in Herning, Denmark, where – thanks to the patronage of Aage Damgaard – he made numbers of new works, experimenting with unorthodox materials, including the 7200 Meter Line. He continued his Achromes, in cotton wool, in phosphorescent polystyrene, and cobalt chloride. He designed the Placentarium, ‘a pneumatic theater for ballets of light, of gas etc.’ and in July 1960, in Milan, staged the Consumazione dell’arte/dinamica del pubblico/divorare l’arte, during which the public was invited to eat boiled eggs bearing his finger print. This was the closing event of the Galleria Azimut. From 1961, parallel to new cycles of Achromes (in fiberglass, plush, bread, straw, wrapping paper), Manzoni was placing his signature on people, turning them into Living Sculptures and issuing certificates of authenticity. He produced his ‘magic bases’ and 90 tin cans of Artist’s Shit, ‘30 grams, freshly preserved’, exhibited for the first time in Albisola. On his second stay in Herning, in 1961, he inaugurated the Base of the World, a metal, overturned pedestal conceptually supporting the world, as a work of art. He took part in several solo and group shows in private galleries and experimental spaces in Italy and abroad (Albisola, Berne, Brussels, Copenhagen, Düsseldorf, London, Rome, Rotterdam, Taipei, Zagabria), as well as in public institutions (for example the group exhibitions Monochrome Malerei, Städtisches Museum, Leverkusen, 1960; Contemporary Italian Art, Illinois Institute of Design, Chicago, 1960; Tentoonnstelling Nul, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1962). He produced films about some of his serial works (‘lines’, ‘living sculptures’, ‘bodies of air’, ‘eggs’). Around 1961-62 Manzoni, with the publisher Jes Petersen, planned a monograph about himself with transparent pages. In 1962 Vanni Scheiwiller published 8 Tavole d’accertamento, with a text by Vincenzo Agnetti. His production of Achromes continued, with balls of cotton wool, stones, and balls of polystyrene.

On 6 February 1963, Piero Manzoni died suddenly of a heart attack in his studio in Via Fiori Chiari, Milan.

ENRICO CASTELLANI (Castelmassa, Rovigo, 1930)

Enrico Castellani moved to Brussels in 1952 where he studied Painting and Sculpture at the Académie des Beaux Arts before graduating in architecture at the École Nationale Supérieure de la Cambre in 1956. He returned to Milan, where he worked in the office of the architect Buzzi until 1963. In 1959 Castellani created his first painting in relief. Together with Piero Manzoni, who had ties with artists throughout Europe, he was an active member of the Zero group; he founded the magazine Azimuth and a gallery of the same name. It was there that he held his first solo exhibition, in 1960. In the same year he presented three relief surfaces in the exhibition Monochrome Malerei at the Städtisches Museum Leverkusen, and together with Manzoni, he exhibited at the Galleria la Tartaruga in Rome. In 1962, again with Manzoni, he exhibited at the Galerie Aujourd’hui in Brussels and took part in the exhibition Nul at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. In 1963 Castellani was given a solo exhibition at the Galleria dell’Ariete in Milan and in 1964 he showed three canvases at the 32nd Venice Biennale, as well as taking part in the Guggenheim International Award in New York. In 1965 he exhibited his large White Surface at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, as part of the international exhibition The Responsive Eye. His works were chosen to represent Italy at the 8th Bienal do Museu de Arte Moderna in São Paulo and at Trigon 65, Burggarten/Palmenhaus in Graz. In 1966 he received the Golin Prize for the works he exhibited in a solo exhibition gallery at the 33rd Venice Biennale and spent time in the United States, where he held his first American solo exhibition, at the Betty Parsons Gallery, New York. In 1967 he was commissioned to create an environment for the exhibition Lo spazio dell’immagine in Palazzo Trinci in Foligno; this was partially destroyed after the event and Castellani created a second version in 1970 as part of Vitalità del negativo nell’arte italiano (1960/70) at Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome. After a brief ‘exile’ in Switzerland, Castellani returned to Italy in 1973 and moved to Celleno, near Viterbo, where he lives and works today. He has continued to play by his own rules. Day by day he creates new relief surfaces in which “infinite encounters, agonizing waits, tautological commensuration, existential suffering and utopian substantiations” take place, convinced of the validity and timeliness of his inventive spirit. In recent years the importance of his work has been recognized and validated internationally. The rare occasions on which he exhibits his work are precious; worthy of mention are his solo and retrospective exhibitions at the Lia Rumma Gallery in Milan in 1999 (inaugurating the gallery’s venue in Milan); Fondazione Prada in Milan in 2001; Kettle’s Yard at Cambridge University; the Greta Meert in Brussels in 2002; Galerie Di Meo in Paris in 2004; the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow in 2005; again at the Lia Rumma in Naples in 2006 and Haunch of Venison in New York in 2009 and 2012. On 13 October 2010 the Honorary Patron of the Japan Art Association awarded Castellani with the Praemium Imperiale for Painting, the highest artistic award worldwide.