Art as a form of expression creates room for a whole lot of experimentation and unsurprisingly, artists continue to push the boundaries of expressions. Quite a number of otherwise ‘uninteresting’ or unconventional pieces have been sold for surprisingly huge sums and are regarded as classics. Popular examples include Blood Red Mirror by Gerhard Richter – $1.1 Million, Riot (1990) by Christopher Wool – $29.9 Million, Blue Fool by Christopher Wool – $5 Million and several other pieces and although certain art enthusiasts regard these pieces as classic and unique forms of expression, their extreme simplicity raises salient points on what is good art.
Modern artists have taken it a notch higher by expressing themselves in a whole lot other unique and sometimes, bizarre forms. However, I am pretty confident none of the popular bizarre forms of art come anything close to that Piero Manzoni, one of Italy’s most controversial artists who canned his poop and sold it as art.
In May 1961, while living in Milan, Piero produced ninety cans of Merda d’artista (Artists shit) each of which was carefully labeled and numbered. Today, cans of Piero’s 30g Merda d’artista have been sold for as much as $242,000 (can no 54) and others for similarly huge sums- $108,000 and $300,000. Piero saw this form as art as a very personal form of expression for an artist, and in a letter to artist Ben Vautier, he said: ‘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 his.’ (Letter reprinted in Battino and Palazzoli p.144.).
Despite the success which Piero’s Merda d’artista, it can be imagined that Piero never envisaged this much success for his canned poop as originally, he pegged the price of each can with its weight in gold, $37 in 1961.
Piero Manzoni died in 1963 at the age of 29 and never got to see his Merda d’artista, live to the acclaim they currently enjoy. Before the Merda d’artista, he had created other radical artworks like hard-boiled eggs sealed with his thumbprint and an array of balloons which he blew and termed “artists breath.” Those who knew Piero up close say he had all manner of vast projects lined up but unfortunately, he never got a chance to share it with the world.
Certainly, the Merda d’artista is regarded as a classic by some schools of art although it does raise salient points on the value of art. If a piece of art is not art in its conventional form, does it deserve all the acclaim it gets? Surely, an engaging dilemma.