Meet the Anonymous Artist Who’s Auctioning Off Cans of Human… Poop Based on the Diets of Major Market Stars at Phillips
This is the first time feces have made it to the company’s auction block.
Phillips auction house is about to sell five cans filled with an artist’s poop based on the diets of top-grossing white male artists like Banksy, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, and Matthew Barney.
The poop tins, which are bundled with NFTs representing the canned crap, will be sold on July 29 and are part of a project appropriately called $HT COIN by the anonymous “White Male Artist,” who describes their work as both “revolutionary” and “commanding.”
Auctions for the artist’s NFTs have previously taken place through OpenSea, a marketplace for crypto goods, and a website owned by the artist. Thus far, the NFTs have sold for anywhere between $1,900 and $4,000 in the cryptocurrency Ether. Phillips has not released estimates for the artworks, but bidding will begin at $1,800.
With the Phillips auction only a week away, Artnet News sought to uncover the mastermind behind this shit. We can now reveal that the person upon the toilet is Cassils, a transgender artist who specializes in physically demanding performances that often investigate the power dynamics between individuals and society. Last year, the artist helped organize a nationwide protest against immigrant detention centers, using airplanes to fly messages in the sky.
“White Male Artist operates as a Trojan horse circulating seamlessly with the crypto bros,” Cassils told Artnet News. “But this project is not about getting rich. We are thinking about systems like NFTs and how we can wield them as artistic tools.”
Cassils plans on giving 10 percent of all proceeds to help establish a new fund for trans and non-binary artists of color, supported by the artist-led organization For Freedoms. They have also committed to offsetting the carbon footprint of minting the NFTs with a donation to Solitary Gardens, a project that plants garden beds in the shape of solitary-confinement cells to advocate for prison abolition.
$HT Coin also honors the 60th anniversary of the Italian artist Piero Manzoni’s own foray into packaged poop. He created Merda D’Artista (Artist’s Shit) in 1961, a project consisting of 90 tin cans, each reportedly filled with 30 grams of excrement and valued at their equivalent weight in gold, about $37 at the time.
But whereas Manzoni’s cans were a satire of Postwar consumerism, Cassils’s are a comment on the advertorial hype of crypto-capitalism, and the artists flocking toward the NFT gold rush after the $69 million Beeple sale set the world on fire earlier this year.
“The Beeple sale mirrored the mediocrity that we see in the contemporary art world and filled a space of supposed technological promise with the same inequities,” Cassils said, drawing a parallel between the “boys club” of cryptocurrency and the preponderance of white male artists leading auction sales.
Cassils began research on the project last summer when plans for nearly a dozen of their exhibitions fell through because of the pandemic and a back injury that put the normally agile artist on ice. Focusing on the promises and pitfalls of NFTs seemed like a good idea.
The “exercise in behavioral finance,” as Cassils calls it, involved extensive research into the diets of artists whose poop is reproduced. Cassils found an article in the Financial Times describing Koons as eating grilled sea bass. Yves Klein’s diet was inspired by the menu for a dinner celebrating an exhibition opening and included cigarettes, coffee, and shellfish.
Cassils will also sell a can of their own poop, based on their own “detox” diet.
“It’s going to be a battle about whose crap costs the most,” the artist said.
NFT purchasers will receive a unique code linked to a 3D rendering of the can. Five of the real cans will be on sale at Phillips, packaged with the corresponding NFTs, although the artist would neither confirm nor deny if the containers were actually filled with poop.
Rebekah Bowling, a specialist at Phillips, said the auction house was eager to work with Cassils because the $HT Coin project demonstrates how the NFT might become its own artistic medium.
“I thought it was provocative,” Bowling said of the artist’s work. “When collectors hear the conceptual rigor around the project, they might perk up a little bit.”
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