MODERN VERSION OF THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES?
Sometimes I wonder if I am the only person who doesn’t get contemporary art?
Some say, to understand modern art, you need to know the context and the artist’s background. But shouldn’t art be self-explanatory? If something can only be art when it’s in the right institutional context, then hasn’t it lost its purity and original meaning?
Others say, you have to give yourself to the artist and just trust the artist. But my mama says, don’t trust strangers! Ok serioiusly now, if we trust whatever the artist creates, then what differentiates us from a flock of sheep?
I am by no means against it. In fact, I am very fascinated by the mechanism of the whole contemporary art system. But can someone please teach me how to appreciate the products of this system?
For example, how is this art?
Artist’s shit by Piero Manzoni
What this is:
Artist’s Shit (Italian: “Merda d’artista”) is a 1961 artwork by the ItalianartistPiero Manzoni. The work consists of 90 tin cans, filled with feces, each 30 grams and measuring 4.8×6.5cm, 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
At the time the piece was created Manzoni was producing works that explored the relationship between art production and human production, Artist’s Breath (“Fiato d’artista”), a series of balloons filled with Manzoni’s breath, being an example.
A tin was sold for €124,000 at Sotheby’s on May 23 2007; in October 2008 tin 083 was offered for sale at Sotheby’s with an estimate of £50-70,000. It sold for £97,250. The cans were originally to be valued according to their equivalent weight in gold — $37 each in 1961 — with the price fluctuating according to the market.
Why would someone buy this shit (literally)? There’s even a big debate on rather the content inside is really shit as well (some say the cans contain plaster and not shit).
Often what amazes me the most is not the modern artwork itself, but the description provided by the museum/gallery/auction house. If I have kids in the future, I will really try to push them to study literature instead of business (I went down the wrong path), because it seems like everything can be turned into gold with the right words.
Here’s a passage taken from TATE’s website:
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. The Merda d’artista, the artist’s shit, dried naturally and canned ‘with no added preservatives’, was the perfect metaphor for the bodied and disembodied nature of artistic labour: the work of art as fully incorporated raw material, and its violent expulsion as commodity. Manzoni understood the creative act as part of the cycle of consumption: as a constant reprocessing, packaging, marketing, consuming, reprocessing, packaging, ad infinitum.
Isn’t it amazing how someone can turn cans of shit into a metaphoric comparison to the “bodied and disembodied nature of artistic labour”?
Anyway, I haven’t given up on my quest to understand modern art yet. To do some self-help, I recently bought this book:
The name of the book is called Why Your Five-Year-Old Could Not Have Done That, and it covers famous works of modern art from various disciplines. The author explains in simple terms what makes each art piece special and she also gives a brief background on the artist/type of art. I think this is a good introductory book for people who want to learn the basics of modern art.
In a world where art is becoming more abstract and expressive than ever, how can we tell something is a masterpiece or artist’s shit? To end this post, here’s a fun quiz that test whether you can differentiate modern art and paintings by toddlers