Manzoni in Holland*

*His can with shit became an icon.

16 February 2019 to 5 June 2019

Why use paint when there are so many other materials? So Piero Manzoni did the latter. In the sixties he made art with his breath, canned his own crap, autographed bodies and invited people to stand on a pedestal. On that magic plinth everyone became a work of art, a living sculpture. His revolutionary approach made him one of the great innovators of the 20th century and his can of crap became an icon of avant-garde art. Manzoni (1933-1963) died of a heart attack at the age of 30.

The work of art: that’s you

For the first time in this country in 50 years the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam presents an extensive retrospective of his work under the title Manzoni in Holland. Not only does the exhibition – from 16 February to 2 June 2019 – examine his artistic development, but Manzoni’s collaboration with artists in the Netherlands and other countries also receives ample treatment. An exceptional feature is that visitors are welcome to stand on Manzoni’s magic pedestal: for a brief moment you are the work of art.  

The discovery of the white

In the late fifties Manzoni inspired a large number of Dutch artists including Henk Peeters and Jan Schoonhoven. He demonstrated the urgency “of discarding the last remnants of the superfluous”, as Jan Schoonhoven put it. Manzoni showed them the way to the white, the emptiness, the ideas. Work by these artists is also on display, together with that of Lucio Fontana. This Italian artist, who was more than 30 years older than Manzoni, let go at the canvas with an awl and knife – quite revolutionary at the time. His influence on Manzoni was significant.


Yves Klein was  another influential artist. When Manzoni saw Klein’s all-blue works in a gallery in Milan, he came up with an all-white version in no time. And those white Achromes in particular made a profound impression on the Dutch artists. No one shared their sentiments at first: when the paintings were displayed by the Rotterdam Art Circle in 1958, hardly anyone saw reason to react positively. Some even resigned their membership of the art circle. Nevertheless a solo exhibition was organized by De Posthoorn Gallery in The Hague just one year later.


When Manzoni took part in the comprehensive zero exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in 1962, he presented six Merda d’Artista cans (1961), possibly his most famous work and an icon of avant-garde art. That he used his own excreta as an artistic medium aroused disgust as well as admiration. Of the 90 originals that were produced, each can of crap weighs 30 grammes and costs just  as much as 30 grammes of gold.


From the same year dates the Base Magica, the magic pedestal, on which Manzoni invited members of the public to take place. This way they became living works of art, created in conjunction with the public. A similar thing happened when Manzoni autographed people’s bodies, presenting a certificate of authenticity and a sticker. A red sticker meant that you were a complete artwork and a yellow one that it was about just one particular part of the body.


The public was likewise invited to come into action in Copenhagen and Milan, where  Manzoni distributed hard-boiled eggs with his fingerprints. In just over an hour visitors ate these ‘signed’ works of art. Fortunately some were saved from consumption, as you can see here in Schiedam. One that has survived, Uova con Impronta, an egg with a thumb-print by way of signature, is in a pretty wooden box.

Peanut butter

Even after Manzoni’s death there were artists who followed in his footsteps. A new generation used breath, aircraft contrails and peanut butter, posing the question – just like Manzoni – as to what art is or can be. Manzoni in Holland also includes Wim T. Schippers’s peanut butter floor of 1962, as well as the ‘breathtaking’ video Breathing in – Breathing out (1977/8) by Marina Abramovic/Ulay. The peanut butter floor could influence allergies, click here for more information. 


This exhibition is the first to throw light on the cooperation between Manzoni and the Rotterdam-based artists’ group Zero, not to be confused with the German Zero group. It particularly concerns the relationship between Manzoni and Hans Sonnenberg, who worked in the harbour as a ship broker and later as a gallery owner. He also was a collector. In those years he acted as manager of the Dutch Zero group. It is the first time that the correspondence of Sonnenberg and Manzoni is examined, and we extend our gratitude to the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, which administers the correspondence.


The book Manzoni in Holland, which accompanies the exhibition, discusses in detail the cooperation of Manzoni with Hans Sonnenberg, the Dutch Zero artists, the international Zero movement and the impact of his views on the artists of Zero and others after that. It is a publication of the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam in conjunction with Nai010 Publishers Rotterdam.

Manzoni and the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam

Manzoni in Holland is in line with the collection and programming of the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, which compiles exhibitions about the fifties and sixties. In recent years the Museum organized exhibitions about the artists’ group zero, herman de vries, Jan Schoonhoven, Optical Art & Kinetic Art, Jan Henderikse and stanley brouwn.

Artists in the exhibition

Marina Abramovic/Ulay, Armando, Marinus Boezem, Kees van Bohemen, Agostino Bonalumi, stanley brouwn, Enrico Castellani, Karl Fred Dahmen, Ger van Elk, Lucio Fontana, Jan Henderikse, Oskar Holweck, Yves Klein, Heinz Mack, Piero Manzoni, Wim Motz, Henk Peeters, Otto Piene, Ian J. Pieters, Gust Romijn, Joop Sanders, Emil Schumacher, Wim T. Schippers, Jan Schoonhoven, herman de vries, Jaap Wagemaker.

Special thanks are due to
Cooperative partners