Piero Manzoni (July 13, 1933 – February 6, 1963) was an Italian artist best known for his ironic approach to avant-garde art. His work is widely seen as a critique of the mass production and consumerism that was changing Italian society (the Italian economic miracle) after World War II. In 1961, Manzoni created Artist’s Shit (Italian: Merda d’artista), an artwork that consists of 90 small tin cans, each filled with 1.1 oz of feces, and measuring 1.9″ × 2.6″, 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
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. The contents of the cans remain a much-disputed enigma, since opening them would destroy the value of the artwork. Various theories about the contents have been proposed, including speculation that it is plaster. Over the years, the cans have spread to various art collections all over the world and netted large prices, far outstripping inflation. 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 and sold for £97,250. On October 16, 2015, tin 54 was sold at Christies for the astonishing sum of £182,500.
Piero Manzoni died of myocardial infarction in his Milan studio on February 6, 1963 at just 29 years of age. His contemporary, Ben Vautier, signed Manzoni’s death certificate, declaring it a work of art.
Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.