The Time an Artist Sold His Own Excrement for the Price of Gold


Tate Museum

The edgy, counterculture card game Cards Against Humanity made a statement about our consumer culture and the Black Friday craze by selling boxes of "bullshit," labeled as such, on their website the day after Thanksgiving. They sold 30,000 boxes of actual animal waste in under two hours.

Well played, Cards Against Humanity, but you're not the first to see the potential for a profound prank in feces.

In May 1961, Italian artist Piero Manzoni produced ninety cans of Merda d’artista, or Artist's Shit, each carefully labeled and numbered. It was said to be a reaction to the fact that his father once told him, "Your work is shit," but this wasn't the first time Manzoni played the value of his own bodily productions—he'd also sold balloons filled with his own breath.

Originally, each tin was priced to be worth its weight in gold, $37 in 1961. But over the years the value of these closed tins has only increased. In 2000, Sotheby’s auctioned one for $67,000, and although the price per ounce of gold had been subject to inflation, if the tins stayed level with gold's market price it should have cost only $395.77. Almost 30 years of aging saw the smelly contents increase in value faster than gold by almost 70-fold.

Unlike Cards Against Humanity—which sourced good old fashion pasteurized bull feces for their stunt—Manzoni's tins might not be the real deal. In 2007, one of Manzoni's collaborators, Agostino Bonalumi, said that the tins contained not actual human excrement but rather plain old plaster.