Lara Demori on Piero Manzoni and Umberto Eco’s The Open Work : Between Bodily Reification and the Spectacle.

Lara Demori on Piero Manzoni and Umberto Eco’s The Open Work: Between Bodily Reification and the Spectacle.

The contemporary art Kunsthalle, Munich’s Haus der Kunst, has undertaken an ambitious project of self-investigation that continues this year with the inaugural research for “Postcolonial: 1955–1980.”

The first dedicated scholar to marshal this project is Lara Demori, Haus der Kunst’s Goethe-Institut Postdoctoral Fellow and a recent graduate of the University of Edinburgh, where her dissertation expanded interpretations of the work of Piero Manzoni. Demori continues this research at Haus der Kunst, this week giving a public talk titled “Piero Manzoni and Umberto Eco’s The Open Work: Between Bodily Reification and the Spectacle.”

The work [of art] is something more than its year of birth, its antecedents or interpretations made of it. And how it is ‘something more’ is usually explained when it comes to a crucial ‘opening’ or ‘ambiguity’ or ‘pluri-signNess’ of the work – meaning that the work of art is a matter of communication that asks to be interpreted and then completed and supplemented by the ratio of the user. Umberto Eco

In 1962, semiotician and writer Umberto Eco (Alessandria, 1932 – Milan, 2016) published the pivotal book The Open Work, conceiving a hermeneutical model that frames a new understanding of the art object and unfolding pioneering perspectives on participatory art from both an aesthetical and a historical point of view. Concurrently, artist Piero Manzoni (Soncino, 1933 – Milan, 1963) declared spectators works of art by placing his signature on their bodies or making them stand on “magic” pedestals. In doing so, the artist forged a new, problematic, interactive dimension between author and audience.

Demori’s work adapts Eco’s aesthetic paradigm to discuss Manzoni’s “living sculptures” and “magic bases” from performances in 1961. The reading of Manzoni’s works through the lenses of Eco’s semiological model unfolds the paradoxical nature that pertains to both series of works, since the effective participation of the audience is undermined by issues of reification of the body and the spectacle. The adoption of Eco’s theory therefore reveals the dystopian – but constructive – sarcasm that was a hallmark of Manzoni’s practice.

Demori further investigates the emergence of postmodern art practices from a transnational perspective and discusses the shift from representation to performance at the turn of the sixties.

Reference: Jacopo Galimberti. “The Intellectual and the Fool: Piero Manzoni Between the Milanese Art Scene and the Land of Cockaigne.” Oxford Art Journal, 2012, Vol. 35(1), pp.75-93.


Piero Manzoni, Achrome (2), c. 1960. Kaolin on canvas. The Museum of Modern Art, Nr.1044.1983.

Piero Manzoni, Achrome, 1961. Fiberglass wool in artist’s box. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Gift, Manzoni Family, 1993, Nr. 93.4225.

Piero Manzoni, Corpo d’Aria, c. 1961. Photographer: James Dee.

Piero Manzoni, 8 Tavola di Accertamento, 1962. Exhibited at Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Fall 1990. One of eight serigraphs on paper in portfolio; ed. 17 of 60. Photographer: Larry Qualls.

Piero Manzoni, Linea M.1000, 1961. Exhibited at Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Fall 1990. Chrome plated metal drum containing a roll of paper with an ink line drawn along its 1000-meter length. Photographer: Larry Qualls.


Further Reading: Germano Celant. Manzoni. Milan: Skira, 2009. 

Rainer Crone. Similia/dissimilia. New York: Rizzoli, 1988.

Posted by Jean Marie Carey

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