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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Excremental Value

By John Miller, Tate Etc.

"If you stuck a piece of shit on the wall, it would be all the same to them as long as someone told them the shit was worth money. That's the nouveau-riche approach."

—Andrea Fraser, performance script for May I Help You? (1991)

Fraser's statement issues from the mouth of a supposed patrician, a woman who might serve on a museum's board of directors. Hers is a provocation meant to distinguish between old money and new, between those with a vast store of cultural capital and those in the business of acquiring as much as they can in the shortest time possible. For the patrician, the acquisitive efficiency of the nouveau riche is odious because the very prospect of ready exchangeability jeopardises long-standing traditions of cultural inheritance. This efficiency, as such, produces a relative indifference to deeply ingrained aesthetic experience. Curiously, her rhetorical substitution of shit for art recapitulates the logic of Piero Manzoni's legendary work Merda d'artista (1961), a provocation of an entirely different order.

Piero Manzoni, Italian, 1933–1963: Merda d'artista (Artist's Shit), 1961

Merda d'artista is an edition of 90 signed and numbered works that Manzoni said he made from his own excrement. Each is a 30-gram can of shit, measuring 4.8x6.5cm, "freshly preserved, produced and tinned," as stated on the label. This information appears in Italian, French, German and English, against a background pattern produced by repeating the artist's name in block letters. Because Manzoni sold each can by weight at gold's daily market price, the shit literally became worth its weight in gold. In retrospect, this has proved to be a bargain. At $35.20 (£18.07) per ounce—the price at which the London Gold Pool (an international consortium of central banks) wanted to fix the precious metal—a tin originally would have cost about $37. That was 1961. Thirty years later, Sotheby's auctioned one for $67,000. Then, the price of gold had climbed to $374 per ounce. If Manzoni's initial pricing scheme still held, it should have cost only $395.77. In other words, in 1991 Merda d'artista had outperformed gold in price by more than 70 times....



Featured Comment
by David Bennett: Wonderful—that's the kind of thing that makes this site worth coming back to—this educational shit is great.


Blogger Brambor said...

already then. I'm off to find some cool cans.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Robert Roaldi said...

One thing I am not sure I understand. Do the cans really contain his actual leavings or is it just symbolic?

10:43 AM  
Blogger Dr Hiding Pup said...

I suppose it'd be good value, if you were a dung beatle, living in an arid desert, and had forgotten to go to the supermarket...

11:48 AM  
Blogger Charlie Didrickson said...

Pure visionary genius. I love this shit!

Ranks right up there with the Sex Pistols as two of the most brilliant acts of the art world in the past 50 years or so.

Thanks for the reminder

11:51 AM  
Blogger BlankPhotog said...

I don't know if I should dignify this scheisse with a response...

12:12 PM  
Blogger Mike Fats said...

I don't get it - why would you want to 'experience' shit, whether on a wall or canned? Surely, this is a statement on commodity, not art.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"Do the cans really contain his actual leavings or is it just symbolic?"

As I read the article, it would only cost you $67,000 to find out.




3:42 PM  
Blogger Erik said...

I recall hearing that a couple of the cans explosively opened a couple of years ago due to a buildup of gases inside the can.
That seems to indicate theres some sort of explosive shit in the cans...

4:38 PM  
Blogger Martin B. said...

This works on so many levels the mind boggles...

However, this is where art leaves behind aestetics and becomes purely conceptual, a statment about itself.

Dada is a joke that can become tiring after a century or so...

5:22 PM  
Blogger Glennsp said...

This has nothing to do with real art and everything to do with the pretentious stupidity of those who would buy anything as long as you called it 'Art' and someone was prepared to wax lyrical about it.

5:28 PM  
Blogger Dr Hiding Pup said...

Question: can of poo or a dozen Leica M8?

6:56 PM  
Blogger Electro said...

Reminds me of an episode of 'King of the Hill'...

Dale: They'll drug test everyone in Arlen! The price for a bag of clean urine will double.

Bill: What do you think will happen to the price of poo poo?

Dale: Unchanged.

7:25 AM  
Blogger JRA said...

I would be sooo tempted to open up the can and see what was inside.

Mike, I'm surprised that no one sent you this comic strip from yesterday:

You might want to read today's strip as well because it's about blogs. IMO, Pearls Before Swine is the best comic strip these days, but still not as good as the Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes were. Although, the crocodile neighbors in "Pearls" have to be some of the greatest comic strip characters ever.

8:38 AM  

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