University of Southern Indiana

Filth and Foulness 2021 - Rob Millard-Mendez

A Brief History of Excrement in Visual Art

Abstract: The products of the body have long been both subject matter and media for artists. Artists have used excrement to make a range of statements from humorous to serious. Marcel Duchamp, always pushing the ontological edges of art, included semen in some of his works. Andre Serrano's Piss Christ caused a huge stir in an art world that was dealing with the fallout of attacks on the NEA and the AIDS crisis. Wim Delvoye's exquisitely crafted Cloaca took inspiration from Piero Manzoni's famous work, The Artist's Shit. Cloaca is a piece that shows reverence toward the elegant complexity of the body’s functions while simultaneously poking fun at automation and the commercial workings of the art world. Paul McCarthy’s videos and sculptural works use scatological imagery to evoke a range of emotions, including fear, disgust, and delight. Sam Mahon is a contemporary artist who used manure to create a work that critiqued the actions (and inactions) of a controversial political figure in New Zealand. Mahon’s impeccably crafted work belies its humble origins, its surfaces are smooth and look nearly identical to a bronze sculpture. This presentation will include many other examples of how excrement has been used and portrayed in visual art, and it will offer some theoretical background that will go beyond the “shock factor” that is often present in work about excrement.

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