In the 1961 the Italian artist Piero Manzoni (1933-1963)produced a series of 90 numbered 'pieces' (ready-made sculptures?) entitled Merda d'Artista. Basically, these were nicely labelled cans that the artist had filled with his own shit. In the mid-eighties Christie's auction house sold one of the 30 gram cans for just under $70,000. The following writeup is an attempt to describe...

Why we shouldn't necessarily dismiss Manzoni's Merda d'Artista

Or, Why Shit isn't always/justShit

some Reasons...

  • Manzoni's 'piece' may can be seen as a critique of (or at least a commentary upon) the banality of art. Manzoni might have been telling us that: Art is no longer (has never been...?) concerned simply with the holy, the majestic, the sacred, the true, the beautiful, the untouchable, the inhuman.

  • It may be seen as a plea for/comment upon the removal of the aesthetically pleasing from art; a statement about the anaesthetic, non-aesthetic, or anti-aesthetic movement in art that was begun (in part) by the early Zurich Dadaists and even earlier by the Futurists.

  • Manzoni may have been hinting at the fact that art is often construed simply as an act of solitary individual creation. The exhibition of excrement as 'art' may be seen as polemical in this sense; that is to say: if art is a mysterious personal process, why have we been excluding processes like shitting for all this time? What priviliges art above our bodily functions? If we take a less agressive stance, it may be seen as a statement about the new-inclusiveness of art: if art is creation, then everything is artistic, even something so (seemingly) 'repugnant'

  • As a comment on the necessity or pervasiveness of art. Art, like waste excretion, may be a fundamental (necessary) human function. It may be that the impulse-to-art can no more be ignored than can the (physical) necessity to "relieve one's self". Thus, Manzoni's 'work' can be seen as an attempt at widening the somewhat-restricted definition of what counts as art.

  • A statement/incarnation of the ridiculousness of modern art in general. The piece's very ridiculousness can be seen as both a continuation of Dada, and a commentary upon it: "If this is what art has come down to..what's next?"

  • Its (originally) provocative nature. The promotion of the idea that art is a vehicle to create action/reaction in the viewer, as well as the artists themselves. In an age of desensitization few things (besides art like Manzoni's) provide any sort of irate reactions.... the Dadaist impulse to smash banality?

  • As an extension of what can count as a ready-made. If art is what an artist calls art, maybe art is anything that comes from an artist as well... Art as the intention of the artist?

  • A Herald of the death of art. The possibility that art can no longer be created in the modern world. AFter the horror of the World Wars, the drive to create has been stamped out of us by the fear of our own creations. Perhaps we should restrict our 'art' to the base, crude functions of the body.

  • Art as wrecking ball. The Artist's shit can smash social barriers by making art accessible to everyone: anyone can create Merda d'Artista. It may also be seen as a cynical comment on just this sort of democratization in art: maybe art shouldn't be equalized.

Well, those are my (non-technical, non-specialist) thoughts on why it might be valuable as some sort of commentary...I don't think I'd be particularly overjoyed to own a can of it myself, but it may pose some interesting questions.

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