The current retrospective of works by Piero Manzoni (Italian, 1933-1963) at the Gagosian in Chelsea was a total revelation to me (http://www.gagosian.com/exhibitions/2009-01-24/ The show is open until March 21). While I have seen the odd Manzoni piece tucked into museum rooms of European Pop Art and Arte Povera (next to Lucio Fontana's cut or poked canvases or Yves Klein's blues) this is the first time that Manzoni's brilliance has really hit me.
There is a large selection of "Achromes" at the Gagosian, white gesso, clay (kaolin) and glue canvases of frozen sags and pleats that groove somewhere in the space between Fontana's cut slits and Agnes Martin or Robert Ryman's meditations on white. A later piece by Manzoni in the next room looks like these early "achromes" from far away, but up close it shows itself to be stacked straw. It made me laugh.
(Not a Manzoni - the Gagosian is intolerant of off-the-cuff photography. Cat fur and barbeque skewers.)
Later "Achromes" abandon the folded canvas and use instead monochromatic cotton balls, cotton pads, fiberglass, rabbit skin, or bread rolls arrayed in boxes or frames. The result plays both as abstraction and formalism (the fibrous depth of white) and as a consumerist recycling or critique (like the Nouveau Réalistes Klein, Arman, Christo, Spoerri). The cotton ball and pad pieces in particular -- turned slightly yellow at the edges over time -- have a 1960's make-up vibe that reminds me of heavy eyeliner and Camelot cocktail parties.
There is also some of Manzoni's later work in the gallery, a period when the performative and the piss-taking (of the art market) came powerfully together (as in the sealed cans of artist's shit), and if he had lived longer, one suspects that Manzoni might well have been a household name.
[On a related note: I have to admit that I never been a great fan of Jim Dine -- whose colorful hearts are ubiquitous in the art press -- but the Pace Wildenstein show (http://www.pacewildenstein.com ) of his Hot Dream (52 books) -- one book created every week -- was amazing. The creepy Pinocchio's and Santa Claus-with-devils photographs are Paul McCarthy-esque, and the whole audio, poetry, collage, book, red mayhem of the show was as good and fun as anything out there.]