Artist's Shit

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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[edit]

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."[1]

In December 1961, Manzoni wrote in a letter to his friend Ben Vautier:

Another friend, Enrico Baj, has said that the cans were meant as "an act of defiant mockery of the art world, artists, and art criticism."[3]

Artist's Shit has been interpreted in relation to Karl Marx's idea of commodity fetishism, and Marcel Duchamp's readymades.[1][4]


A tin was sold for 124,000 at Sotheby's on May 23, 2007;[5] 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.[1]

Contents of the cans[edit]

One of Manzoni's friends, the artist Agostino Bonalumi, claimed that the tins are full not of faeces but plaster;[6] in contrast, Manzoni's girlfriend Nanda Vigo, who helped him produce the cans, claimed the contents really were faeces.[citation needed] Vigo's assertion is disputed by Manzoni's brother and sister.[citation needed] An art dealer from the Gallery Blu in Milan claims to have detected a fecal odor emanating from a can.[7] 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.[8] 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.[1]

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.[9]

See also[edit]

Footnotes and citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Miller, John (1 May 2007). "Excremental Value". Tate Etc (10). Retrieved 2 May 2014. 
  2. ^ Battino, Freddy; Palazzoli, Luca (1991). Piero Manzoni: Catalogue raisonné. Milan. p. 144. ISBN 8844412470. 
  3. ^ Dutton, Denis (1 July 2009). The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 202. ISBN 9781608191932. 
  4. ^ Bryan-Wilson, Julia (2003). Work Ethic. Penn State Press. p. 208. ISBN 9780271023342. 
  5. ^ Sotheby's, asta record per "merda d'artista"
  6. ^ Glancey, Jonathan (12 June 2007). "Merde d'artiste: not exactly what it says on the tin". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 May 2014. 
  7. ^ Chacun sa merde, a film about owners of the artwork around the world
  8. ^ Clowes, Erika Katz (2008). The Anal Aesthetic: Regressive Narrative Strategies in Modernism (Ph.D. thesis). University of California, Berkeley. ISBN 9780549839651. 
  9. ^ 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

External links[edit]