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In 1957, after abandoning a law degree and directing his efforts to painting, Manzoni, at age 24, joined the Nucleari, a group whose art addressed the atomic bomb, and produced some of his first important work, haunting images painted in black tar. Swirling and heaping gobs of the stuff onto canvas, Manzoni conjured organic shapes that rise against glimpses of red and burnt brown. The three versions at Gagosian are visions of apocalyptic gloom, infused with a young man's angst.

But Manzoni, ever restless, quickly dispensed with raw emotion as he found himself drawn to purification and reduction, common urges in that postwar decade. Taking his cue from earlier works like Rauschenberg's white paintings or Guy Debord's film without images, Manzoni eliminated "all useless gestures" and began making his Achromes, virtually colorless three-dimensional surfaces created, in the best of them, by coating wrinkled canvases in white clay.
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