A Brief History of Poop-Related Art

From Duchamp to Cattelan.

In 1917, Marcel Duchamp shocked the world with his Fountain, and ever since, artists the world over have taken their cues from the commode.

Almost a century later, Maurizio Cattelan is adding to the grand tradition by placing an 18-karat gold toilet in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. This time, however, the transformed porcelain god is available for public use.

Marcel Duchamp, The Fountain (1917). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Marcel Duchamp, The Fountain (1917). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

1. 1917: Marcel Duchamp, Fountain
Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential art objects of the 20th century. As Donald Kuspit wrote in artnet Magazine, Duchamp rendered objects second to ideas “to the extent that they became illustrations of them.”

It’s truly amazing what signing ‘R. Mutt’ on a urinal has accomplished.

Piero Manzoni, Artist's Shit (1961). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Piero Manzoni, Artist’s Shit (1961). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

2. 1961: Piero Manzoni, Artist’s Shit
Nearly half a century later, in 1961, Piero Manzoni, in his own agenda to ridicule the fraught nature of art objects, decides to fill 90 tin cans with 30 grams of his own excrement. Tin number 51 of 90 sold for £103,250 ($161,173) at Christie’s London in 2012.

As Manzoni himself once said, “[I]f collectors want something intimate, really personal to the artist, there’s the artist’s own shit.” Manzoni died in 1963, and wasn’t able to see how expensive his “intimate” objects became.

Andy Warhol, Oxidation painting. (1978). Courtesy of Christie's.

Andy Warhol, Oxidation painting. (1978). Courtesy of Christie’s.

3. 1977: Andy Warhol, Oxidation Paintings
Where Manzoni sought to sanctify shit (however satirically), Andy Warhol embarked on a project that engaged the chemical possibilities of urine.

In his Oxidation paintings of the late 1970s through early 1980s, the artist asked friends and colleagues to urinate on sheets of copper. The resulting images, as the Warhol Museum describes, are the consequences of “uric acid react[ing]with the copper in the paint, removing components of the pure metal to form mineral salts.”


Andres Serrano, Piss Christ (1987). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

4. 1987: Andres Serrano, Piss Christ
At the tail end of the 1980s, photographer Andres Serrano presented a urine-based work of his own—which generated enough controversy to make him an overnight sensation.

Piss Christ, a 1987 photograph depicting a crucifix completely immersed in a glass of Serrano’s urine, was met with art world acclaim and disgust from critics in the US government, which reduced funding to the National Endowment of the Arts as a result. Notably, art critic and Catholic nun Wendy Beckett said that the image is a legitimate reflection of “what we have done to Christ.”

Robert Gober, Three Urinals (1988). Courtesy of Christie's.

Robert Gober, Three Urinals (1988). Courtesy of Christie’s.

5. 1988: Robert Gober, Three Urinals
In the following year, Robert Gober introduced the world to his Three Urinals. The assemblage of objects certainly hearken to Duchamp’s own Fountain, but Gober’s sculptures were actually handcrafted.

As Christie’s writes in their description of the art work, Gober changes the discourse on conceptual art with his decision to find “meaning in form and content” rather than playing games.

Chris Ofili, <em>Holy Virgin Mary</em> (1996). Courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.

Chris Ofili, Holy Virgin Mary (1996). Courtesy of Saatchi Gallery.

6. 1996: Chris Ofili, Holy Virgin Mary
Chris Ofili provided the world with an equally quick-to-offend series of elephant dung paintings in the mid-90s. One painting in particular, Holy Virgin Mary, which the artist debuted in 1996 at the Brooklyn Museum, renders a black Virgin Mary with elaborate designs using elephant feces. Despite its initial controversy, the piece sold last June at a Christie’s London auction for 2.9 million pounds ($4.6 million).

Terence Koh. Courtesy of Patrick McMullan.

Terence Koh. Courtesy of Patrick McMullan.

7. 2007: Terence Koh, Gold Plated Poop
A full decade and change later, artist Terence Koh took feces-as-art to another level by encrusting globs of his own excrement with gold. Koh took an installation of his gold-encrusted feces to Art Basel, where according to art dealer Javier Peres, Gold Plated Poop sold for $500,000.

Paul McCarthy, Complex Shit (2008). Courtesy of artnet via Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern.

Paul McCarthy, Complex Shit (2008). Courtesy of artnet via Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern.

8. 2008: Paul McCarthy, Complex Shit
In 2008, art world troublemaker Paul McCarthy graced the Bern with these cringeworthy, larger-than-life inflatable turds.

9. 2016: Lisa Levy, The Artist is Humbly Present
Earlier this year, Lisa Levy took toilets to stage in a Brooklyn performance she titled The Artist is Humbly Present. Over the course of two days, the artist sat in the nude on a toilet across from visitors.

Maurizio Cattelan, America (2016).Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Maurizio Cattelan, America (2016). Courtesy of the artist.

10. 2016: Maurizio Cattelan, America
Then, of course, there’s Maurizio Cattelan, who announced plans of installing a solid gold toilet in the Guggenheim this year, as a sparkling about-face to Duchamp’s humble beginnings. America takes aim at the one percent, noting that it “counter[s] the artistic transgression of Fountain by restoring the utility of their shared subject.”

So, what’s next?

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