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Artist’s Shit (no. 4) by Piero Manzoni

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at Artist’s Shit (no. 4) by Piero Manzoni.

About the Work

Title: Artist’s Shit (no. 4)
Artist : Piero Manzoni
Year : (1961)
Medium : Tin can, printed paper and excrement
Dimensions : Object: 48 × 65 × 65 mm, 0.1 kg 
Location : Tate, UK

Piero-Manzoni_Artists-Shit-1961_Artwork-in-Focus_Divvya-Nirula
Artist’s Shit 1961 by Piero Manzoni 1933-1963
Purchased 2000
image courtesy : http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T07667

The Concept behind the Work

Artist’s Shit remains as Piero Manzoni’s most notable works. A 30gm can was supposed to contain the artists excrement, sealed and presented for sale to visitors to the gallery. There were
90 such cans, which were produced, canned and labelled at Manzoni’s father’s cannery. The cans all looked the same, mocking the mass-produced goods and the consumer culture. The piece worked at multiple levels of thought. There was an inherent critique of society that was willing to be duped into spending and buying, and a society that was willing to be blind, and satirizing the reverence accorded to artists’ work. To prove his theory Manzoni went to great lengths, in curating his art.

The gallery sold the cans at the then-market price of gold by weight. Further subverting notions of value. There is no way that the audience can ever know the true contents of the work because if they are opened that would be tantamount to damaging the artwork.

“The work of art has its origin in an unconscious impulse that springs from collective substrata of universal values common to all men, from which all men draw their gestures, and from which the artist derives the ‘archaic’ of organic existence. Every man of his own accord extracts the human element from this base, without realizing it, and in an elementary and immediate way.”

Piero Manzoni

Other Details

Manzoni can be considered as a precursor of the Arte Povera group as his work reflects the key principles of the movement. His contribution is immensely influential in making Italian avant-garde practices known internationally. It was the beginning that made way for the Arte Povera to emerge.

The radical artwork is a metaphorical rendition of the artist’s body. The very life processes that it goes through and the products it creates. Manzoni showcases how the artist’s body is a consumable object.


To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit the archive for Artwork in Focus.

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