Piero Manzoni, born in Soncino in 1933 in an aristocratic family, attended Brera Academy for a short time. After having created some traditional landscapes, in the second half of the 1950s he set off towards a deep research of experimentation progressively conducted both on a technical-material and an aesthetic-conceptual level. He initially approached the abstract-informal experiences of Burri, Fontana and Fautrier. In 1955 he made a series of works by dipping objects in color (keys, scissors, pliers, pincers) and impressing them on the canvas; they were followed by paintings made with oil and tar. In 1956 he published the manifesto Per la scoperta di una zona di immagini (For the discovery of an area of images).
In 1957 he took part in a group exhibition organized by Fontana (Milan, Galleria Pater) and joined Gruppo Nucleare by co-signing the Manifesto contro lo stile. In 1958 he produced the Tavole di accertamento and his first Achromes, white paintings made with canvas soaked in raw chalk, then scratched or engraved. It was followed by the series of Achromes with surfaces covered in kaolin (1958), felt, cotton wool and expanded polystyrene (1960), fiberglass (1961), bread and stones (1962).
After the definitive detachment from Gruppo Nucleare, in 1959 he met Castellani, Bonalumi and Agnetti, with whom he founded the magazine “Azimuth” and the gallery bearing the same name. From that moment he emphasized the process of dematerialization of art, developing an increasingly conceptual approach: he produced the first Linee. After a stay in The Hague, where he came into contact with the Zero Group, he went to Rome to present his book made of chalk: Piero Manzoni parla (1959). After returning to Milan, he created the forty-five pneumatic sculptures Corpi d’aria: inflatable works, which he went on producing until 1961.
On July 21, 1960 he presented at the Azimuth center in Milan his most famous performance: Consumazione dell'arte dinamica del pubblico - divorare l'arte, during which he distributed hard-boiled eggs signed with his thumbprint, inviting the audience to eat them. Towards the end of the year he signed the manifesto Del nulla contro nulla with Castellani, Heinz Mack and Otto Piene. He continued to work at the Achromes, using the most diverse materials, and designed the Base magica, a pedestal he signed that, in his intentions, elevates to the role of work of art every person willing to climb on it. He exhibited with Castellani at the Gallery La Tartaruga in Rome where he presented other Achromes and Sculture viventi that he signs live.
Also from 1960 are the ninety boxes of Merda d’artista, sold by weight at the gold quotation. Starting from the idea that art includes the totality of reality and life on earth – whether human, animal, vegetable and mineral – Manzoni created the Base del mondo during a stay in Denmark (Herning Park, 1961), a “magical base” in iron which, as the upside-down engraving on the same base declares, “Socie du monde”, supports the whole world. He continued to work at the Achromes and in 1962 exhibited with the Zero group at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. He died for a heart attack in his studio in Milan on February 6, 1963, leaving behind a significant artistic production representing a fundamental reference point, especially for conceptual and Arte Povera artists.