Merda d'Artista, or, You Call That Shit Art?

l 100+ pointsm 1+ points - Newb

Digestion and excretion. Elimination of solid waste. Making number two.
Taking a big ol' dump. The names for this natural bodily process are many,
and for eons upon eons, humans have taken an inordinate amount of interest
in their own shit production. Heck, even primates at the zoo are frequently
seen flinging or consuming their own feces, so there's a long evolutionary
tradition at work. But to what end?

Piero Manzoni: Merda d'Artista (1961).

The culmination of the evolutionary process, some might say, is the human
desire to create. The human creative impulse takes form across a broad
spectrum, ranging from the profane to the sacred -- from one end we create
shit, and from the other, art.

Thus is seems only fitting (that is, if you
follow my dubious line of reasoning) that the two would merge to form the
ultimate in human creation.

It is precisely this merger which Italian artist Piero Manzoni depicted in
his 1961 piece "Merda d'Artista," or "Artist's Shit": He
sealed his crap in a bunch of cans, signed and mounted them, and sold them
as art.

There are also two relatively well-known modern artists who have
chosen to explore this line of imagery, to better our understanding of the
human condition. Or maybe they were all just trying to come up with creative
ways of getting shit into a museum setting. In either case, I think they did
their duty (hahahaha! oh, I kill me) admirably.

Chris Ofili: The Holy Virgin Mary (1996)

Take the British artist Chris Ofili. You may recall his painting depicting
the Virgin
with a breast sculpted from elephant dung, which created a huge
ruckus a few years ago when displayed in a New York museum. But this is
not his only work incorporating huge clumps of shit. In fact, he often uses
elephant dung to prop up his paintings in shows.

Ofili is quoted in as saying, "Somehow it makes the painting feel more relaxed, instead of
being pinned upon the wall like it's being crucified ... [The painting can]
stand in its own shit and watch the other paintings being crucified on the
wall." Yeah!

The titles of some of Ofili's other pieces speak for themselves: there's
"Bag of Shit," "Shithead," and he even held a Shit Sale in 1993 in London.
However, this is still all in the realm of the familiar and "earthy."

another artist, Belgian Wim Delvoye, elevated the production of shit to an
inhuman, impersonal level in his conceptual artwork "Cloaca." This installation piece
consisted of a huge machine of glass, tubes, wires,
and pumps that, when fed a meal on one end, would "digest" it using a
blender and jars of enzymes.

Wim Delvoye: Cloaca (2000)

According to the Artnet
(which was highly entertaining reading in itself), in a couple of
days "the food came out of a filtering unit as something close to genuine,
human shit." A process which, apparently, made grown men blanch and little
girls cry. What more could you ask from a piece of art? The turds were
subsequently signed and sold á la Piero Manzoni. (Delvoye is currently at
work on his ongoing project: tattooing a herd of pigs.)

Art and shit: a confluence which these artists see as oh-so-natural, but a
conjunction that remains disturbing to the average museum-goer. Yet why
should that be so? Why should we not embrace humanity in all its shitty
glory? Perhaps this is a question for art critics of future ages to answer,
when they find petrified lumps of crap in the museum storage room.

38 Comments on "Merda d'Artista, or, You Call That Shit Art?"

Dave's picture
PoopReport of the Year AwardComment Content Moderatora 10000+ points - Super Pooper

Cloaca is in NYC until the 28th of April... be sure to check it out!

Dan's picture
m 1+ points - Newb

Bravo! It's always nice to see more intelligent commentary on art and excrement - As the only physical creation all humans share on a daily basis (if you're lucky), our waste can be a prime vehicle for artistic exploration. As these three artist's work illustrates, it's just another medium in the arsenal. (warning: there is some crappy art out there, however...)

Artful Dodger's picture
Comment Quality Moderatorl 100+ points

Interesting, but I'm not convinced a machine that mimics the digestive system is art. It seems more like a science experiment. As for the shit in a can, what the hell is up with that? There isn't any creativity or emotional expression involved. It's poop in a can. I can't believe anyone would be stupid enough to buy someone else's crap.

Dave's picture
PoopReport of the Year AwardComment Content Moderatora 10000+ points - Super Pooper

Art isn't always the art itself... sometimes the behavior of the audience constitutes the art. So the fact that people treat shit as art and buy it and worship it... maybe that is the comment the artist is trying to make.

Sarah's picture
l 100+ pointsm 1+ points - Newb

Dan--I finally checked out your Intellectual Crap article. Nice job! I was interested to see your prints. I'm a printmaker too (mostly etching & some relief), though none of my works have yet featured a toilet. Keep up the good work. And there IS a lot of crappy art. Sadly, feces is often used for evil.

Sarah's picture
l 100+ pointsm 1+ points - Newb

Hey, Artful Dodger. I'm not sure I think it's exactly art, either, but it is pretty cool...As for the canned shit, well, at least it's funny, which is more than I can say for a lot of art I've seen. (Don't get me started on that, though!) ;)

Artful Dodger's picture
Comment Quality Moderatorl 100+ points

I agree with you, Sarah. I did a little digging for more information about Cloaca and found it fascinating. I still think that the canned shit is a scam, but just in case it isn't I pinched a few into some old Mason jars. I'm sure I can unload at least a couple of them on Ebay, what with all the other crap people unload on there. (Rob Griswalda, if you're reading this, I'm JOKING.)

Dave's picture
PoopReport of the Year AwardComment Content Moderatora 10000+ points - Super Pooper

I saw Cloaca. It was pretty cool. An article is forthcoming.

charlie's picture


JyZude's picture

Along the same lines as "poop in a can" are vials of cum a performance artist set up in Banff national park (Canada). They were in a fully sealed white cooler labelled "Forty (40) vials semen, extracted through masturbation". It shocked people despite the fact that there was nothing to see - the box could have been empty. It's similar to "poop in a can" as part of the intent may just have been to shock people into admitting that even artists need to poop, just as they often masturbate. Now buying it, on the other hand, just shows that art buyers can be extremely stupid, and the artists know this.

Jordi's picture

A journalist was talking to Joan Mir

Scatmanmac's picture

All fine & good using shit, infact I run a website devoted to this form of art.

Yet the UK looks upon this as evil & not at all artistic, in other words it says that art is a closed shop & disgusting can not be art!!!

Waiting on my court case :(( OPA 1857

jude's picture

how can the british look down at shit(besides literally)? i mean, their most notable(?) artist has used his own blood and the placeba from his own child as his medium. i lived in manchester england last year, they seem pretty open minded(?)to poop compared to americans. but i'll be a bastard if they don't get over that shit!

Kelsey's picture

What the hell is a placeba? I've heard of a placebo, which is basicly a pill that doesn't actually do anything that they give to certain test patients to compare them against another group of test patients to see if a certain test drug actually does anything. But what this PLACEBA is that you speak about, the word PLACEBA is not even in the english dictionary. Perhaps you mean PLACENTA. Get an education, my friend. I'm tired of fucking idiots in the world!

neko's picture

I wish I could sell pieces of signed shit for 1000$ like the shit-machine artist was. That is purely a thing of beauty and I bet he cackles like a hyena every time he counts his money and rolls around in it like Scrooge McDuck.

5Wipesormore's picture

Truly fantastic. They say life is art, and that it's only your bodily functions that let you know you're still alive - so it's obvious that "shit" art is the most profound statement of existence a human can make.

But it is also truly avant garde, like someone else said art is about how people observe it, and how the artist has presented the concept to his audience. That machine that digests food into shit is pure genius - man if only I'd thought of that. It demonstrates how mankind's primative energies are being turned into work or systems of organisation. That through some system or machine the very life force that drives us can be regulated or ordered in some way. But just like say test tube baby's we know the process isn't entirely natural, science has interfered with nature.

Plus it's funny to see shit in a museum.

Disgusted's picture

This is not art. This is the end.

Lord's picture

Once when I was 7 and in a jacuzzi with my little sister who at the time was 5 I let go a pool poo. They floated to the top and bobbled in the bubbles. The owner found my naive sister sitting in the hot-tub with my baubles. Sister remembers this extraordinary occurrence as lucidly as I. And my memory is fine for it's one of the only memories I've of my past firmness and peace of mind.

So suck my squeaky!

danny j's picture

piero manzoni (canned poop) had a therory that anything an artist produced, or signed, became a work of art. its called conceptual art.

danny j's picture

some art is conceptual. the poop in a can is a concept that anything an artist produces is's a great peice i think. he also sold baloons of his own breath at shows.

Fart Poopie's picture
j 1000+ points

I get a kick out of Ofili's comment on why he displays his paintings on elephant poop.

"Somehow it makes the painting feel more relaxed, instead of being pinned upon the wall like it's being crucified ... [The painting can] stand in its own shit and watch the other paintings being crucified on the wall."

Just like an artist to worry about the comfort of his creations.

The Shit Volcano's picture
Comment Quality Moderatorh 3000+ points

I just don't get this kind of "art". Cans of poop, breath in balloons. I clean the cat box every day and I'm not about to use the old kitty litter for sculpture.

I found Jesus! He was behind the sofa the whole time!

Dave's picture
PoopReport of the Year AwardComment Content Moderatora 10000+ points - Super Pooper

"In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art." -- Sol DeWitt

TSV -- Don't think of this art in terms of something pretty. Rather, think of this art in terms of what it says. What does it mean that you can go to a gallery and see one of Manzoni's cans of shit next to one of Picasso's sculptures? What does that say about the role of the museum? Of the artist? Of you, the spectator? That's what this art is about.

Logjam's picture
Comment Quality Moderatori 2000+ points

TSV. I think what Dave is suggesting is that you buy a famous painting (I just read today where the Art Insitute has put Chagall's "Juggler" up for sale) and put that masterpiece up right next to your kitty's litter box. Invite people in to see the two juxtaposed, and they will ask themselves and you all kinds of "What the...." questions. Note how what I have described is a "machine" for making art. All you really need is a few mill to get the nice piece of art to serve as "context." But after that, you can turn nearly anything into a conversation piece.


The Shit Volcano's picture
Comment Quality Moderatorh 3000+ points

You guys make good points. I am not criticizing the man's art in particular. Conceptual art in general is not my boat, but occasionally I have found a few exhibits that have caught my attention.

What I get tired of is those yuppy artists who throw a few drops of paint on a canvas, sell it for $30,000 a pop, and call it art. There is no concept to it. No meaning. Well, they say there's a meaning.

"If you don't know, I'm not going to tell you."

Translation: "It has no meaning. I just wanted to bilk art morons out of their hard-earned cash."

This kind of attitude makes me very cautious and skeptical of most conceptual art.

I found Jesus! He was behind the sofa the whole time!

Dave's picture
PoopReport of the Year AwardComment Content Moderatora 10000+ points - Super Pooper

And that's exactly what Merde d'Artist is commenting on. Why are paint splatters flung onto a canvas considered art? Because an artist flung them? Because a museum exhibited them? Because a collecter bought them? And if a can of shit is valued as much as a paint-splattered canvas, what does that say about the artist? The museum? The collector?

Perhaps the whole point of Merde d'Artista is to make you question these things.

The Shit Volcano's picture
Comment Quality Moderatorh 3000+ points


I found Jesus! He was behind the sofa the whole time!

Anonymous Coward's picture

I am pooping as i write this. I will click Submit as i flush.

Conrad Skinner's picture

Coming up!! CAMP: art and sustainability. this weekend, April 28, 2007. Hyde Memorial Park Santa Fe National Forest New Mexico. 20 artists outdoor installations. Conrad Skinner, Curator.

I'm putting in a piece using gold-leafed coyote shit.

GottaGoGirl's picture
i 2000+ points

My mother-in-law lives in NM; I wonder if I can get her to attend!
Hey! Don't touch my wenis!

Anonymous Coward's picture

I consider good art to be practical.

whether this in the form of evoking an emotion, pleasure etc or conveying an idea. The 'best' art is art that has the most adverse effect upon the world audience.

I like conceptual art. It challenges and changes peoples perceptions of art and the world. We scoff its nativity and laugh at its occasional paradoxical stupidity but all this does is simply feed it. Its funny, entertaining occasionally prophetic and most usually insane.

Anyway I loved this page and especially the comments posted on it.

anomimous coward from italiy's picture

SHHHHH.....SHIT!!!Please join the Italian Shit Crew..Be my friend on Facebook!!!Roberto Gabbiano!!!Come on!!!

El Scumbag's picture
k 500+ points

Interestingly enough Piero Manzoni, when he sold this art, commented that he hoped that these cans would explode while in the possession of the collectors.

Over time, approximately 50% of them fermented in the cans and did just that.

DonVoghano's picture

This kind of stuff represents the well deserved death of art in the 20th century. Every form of contemporary art is composed of a very few decent specimens in an ocean of pure shit, mental masturbation and utter ugliness.

Art was never meant to be like this, and the constant redefining of the term will not save these frauds from the just derision of future generations. They will contemplate with contempt the rotten and grotesque products of presumption and conformity disguised as revolution: an actual involution that has brought our society on the brink of destruction. When artists cease to be artists, all we have left is Nike.

Kap's picture

Well, if this art is about the audience's reaction, then I'll give it what it deserves and the the artist no doubt hates above all--- I'll ignore it. It has no soul.

MSG's picture
Comment Quality Moderatori 2000+ points

I suppose it is possible to find beauty in just about anything, but I have long held the efforts here described in contempt. The artists' intent is to shock through the ultimate rudeness--taking mooning to its ultimate crudity. There are actually artists who occasionally depict poop and pooping artistically; Salvador Dali and Odd Nerdrum come to mind. By contrast, the stuff shown above is just what it is: Crap.

Anonymous Coward's picture

But there's no beauty in shit. It almost defies the traditional(ly accepted) purpose of art.
Now it has to do with a stupefaction reaction. This is not art, it's a new concept, assimilated to art. Maybe "shart" is a better name. (shock art).


ChiefThunderbutt's picture
PoopReport of the Year AwardComment Content ModeratorComment Quality Moderatorf 5000+ points

I have heard that beauty is in the brown eye of the beholder.

How long a minute is depends on what side of the bathroom door you're on!

If I had two faces do you think I'd be wearing this one?

Post new comment

  • Allowed HTML tags: s:62:"<em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <br>";
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.