The Personal Touch

Piero Manzoni's 'Merda d'Artista'

Perhaps unassuming at first glance, Piero Manzoni's Merda d'Artistais an early and riotous encapsulation of debates around authorship and commodification that continue to rage today. In May of 1961, the young Arte Povera artist allegedly placed his own excrement in 90 tins labeled in Italian, French, German, and English. Shocking as it was, the Merda edition was a continuation of Manzoni's ongoing exploration into the value of his own bodily substances: by that time, he had already sold balloons containing his breath and offered guests the opportunity to eat eggs emblazoned with his fingerprints. The critic Jon Thompson noted, "Manzoni's critical and metaphorical reification of the artist's body, its processes and products, pointed the way towards an understanding of the persona of the artist and the product of the artist's body as a consumable object."

Piero Manzoni with cans © Fondazione Piero Manzoni, Milan