Artist's Shit (Italian: "Merda d'artista") is a 1961 artwork by the Italian artist Piero Manzoni. The work consists of 90 tin cans, filled with faeces, each 30 grams and measuring 4.8x6.5 cm, with a label in Italian, English, French, and German stating:
- Artist's Shit
- Contents 30 gr net
- Freshly preserved
- Produced and tinned
- in May 1961
Inspiration and interpretations
At the time the piece was created, Manzoni was producing works that explored the relationship between art production and human production, Artist's Breath ("Fiato d'artista"), a series of balloons filled with his own breath, being an example.
Manzoni's father, who owned a cannery, is said to have once told his artist son, "Your work is shit."
In December 1961, Manzoni wrote in a letter to his friend Ben Vautier:
I should like all artists to sell their fingerprints, or else stage competitions to see who can draw the longest line or sell their shit in tins. The fingerprint is the only sign of the personality that can be accepted: if collectors want something intimate, really personal to the artist, there's the artist's own shit, that is really his.
A tin was sold for €124,000 at Sotheby's on May 23, 2007; in October 2008 tin 083 was offered for sale at Sotheby's with an estimate of £50-70,000. It sold for £97,250. The cans were originally to be valued according to their equivalent weight in gold — $37 each in 1961 — with the price fluctuating according to the market.
Contents of the cans
One of Manzoni's friends, the artist Agostino Bonalumi, claimed that the tins are full not of faeces but plaster; in contrast, Manzoni's girlfriend Nanda Vigo, who helped him produce the cans, claimed the contents really were faeces. Vigo's assertion is disputed by Manzoni's brother and sister. An art dealer from the Gallery Blu in Milan claims to have detected a fecal odor emanating from a can. The cans are steel, and thus cannot be x-rayed or scanned to determine the contents, and opening a can would cause it to lose its value; thus, the true contents of Artist's Shit are unknown. Bernard Bazile exhibited a partially opened can of Artist's Shit in 1989, titling it Opened can of Piero Manzoni (French: Boite ouverte de Piero Manzoni). Even so, the contents were unable to be identified.
The piece received media coverage due to a lawsuit in the mid-1990s, when an art museum in Randers, Denmark was accused by art collector John Hunov of causing leakage of a can which had been on display at the museum in 1994. Allegedly, the museum had stored the can at irresponsibly warm temperatures. The lawsuit ended with the museum paying a DKK 250,000 settlement to the collector.
Footnotes and citations
- Miller, John (1 May 2007). "Excremental Value". Tate Etc (10). Retrieved 2 May 2014.
- Battino, Freddy; Palazzoli, Luca (1991). Piero Manzoni: Catalogue raisonné. Milan. p. 144. ISBN 8844412470.
- Dutton, Denis (1 July 2009). The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 202. ISBN 9781608191932.
- Bryan-Wilson, Julia (2003). Work Ethic. Penn State Press. p. 208. ISBN 9780271023342.
- Sotheby's, asta record per "merda d'artista"
- Glancey, Jonathan (12 June 2007). "Merde d'artiste: not exactly what it says on the tin". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 May 2014.
- Chacun sa merde, a film about owners of the artwork around the world
- Clowes, Erika Katz (2008). The Anal Aesthetic: Regressive Narrative Strategies in Modernism (Ph.D. thesis). University of California, Berkeley. ISBN 9780549839651.
- Christensen, Uffe (13 January 2010). "Museum sur over lorteudtalelse" [Museum angry about shit opinion]. Jyllands-Posten (in Danish). Retrieved 2 May 2014.
- Source: Neue Zürcher Zeitung Nr 89.76