Artist's Shit (Italian: Merda d'artista) is a 1961 artwork by the Italian artist Piero Manzoni. The work consists of 90 tin cans, each reportedly filled with 30 grams (1.1 oz) of faeces, and measuring 4.8 by 6.5 centimetres (1.9 in × 2.6 in), with a label in Italian, English, French, and German stating:
Contents 30 gr net
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 83 was offered for sale at Sotheby's with an estimate of £50,000–70,000. It sold for £97,250. On October 16, 2015, tin 54 was sold at Christies for £182,500. In August 2016, at an art auction in Milan, one of the tins sold for a new record of €275,000, including auction fees. The tins 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. 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 an opened can of Artist's Shit in 1989, titling it Opened can of Piero Manzoni (French: Boite ouverte de Piero Manzoni). The can contained an unidentifiable, wrapped object, which Bazile did not open. There are rumors that some cans have exploded and that a can contains another can inside it.
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 high temperatures. The lawsuit ended with the museum paying a 250,000 Danish kroner settlement to the collector.
- 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"
- "Record per "Merda d'Artista" di Manzoni: 275mila euro per la scatoletta n. 69". LaStampa.it. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
- Glancey, Jonathan (12 June 2007). "Merde d'artiste: not exactly what it says on the tin". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 May 2014.
- 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). Archived from the original on 21 October 2013. Retrieved 2 May 2014.
- Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Nr. 89.76