Lynda Benglis, ‘Quartered Meteor’ 1969, cast 1975
Lynda Benglis, Quartered Meteor 1969, cast 1975 . Tate . © Lynda Benglis

Room 6 in Constellations

Lynda Benglis Quartered Meteor, 1969

3 rooms in Constellations

Artist’s Shit

Piero Manzoni, Artist’s Shit  1961

In May 1961, while he was living in Milan, Piero Manzoni produced ninety cans of Artist's Shit. Each was numbered on the lid 001 to 090. Tate's work is number 004. A label on each can, printed in Italian, English, French and German, identified the contents as '"Artist's Shit", contents 30gr net freshly preserved, produced and tinned in May 1961.' In December 1961 Manzoni wrote in a letter to the artist Ben Vautier: 'I should like all artists to sell their fingerprints, or else stage competitions to see who can draw the longest line or sell their shit in tins. The fingerprint is the only sign of the personality that can be accepted: if collectors want something intimate, really personal to the artist, there's the artist's own shit, that is really his.' (Letter reprinted in Battino and Palazzoli p.144.) It is not known exactly how many cans of Artist's Shit were sold within Manzoni's lifetime, but a receipt dated 23 August 1962 certifies that Manzoni sold one to Alberto Lùcia for 30 grams of 18-carat gold (reproduced in Battino and Palazzoli p.154). Manzoni's decision to value his excrement on a par with the price of gold made clear reference to the tradition of the artist as alchemist already forged by Marcel Duchamp and Yves Klein among others. As the artist and critic Jon Thompson has written: 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. (Piero Manzoni, 1998, p.45) Artist's Shit was made at a time when Manzoni was producing a variety of works involving the fetishisation and commodification of his own body substances. These included marking eggs with his thumbprints before eating them, and selling balloons filled with his own breath (see Tate T07589). Of these works, the cans of Artist's Shit have become the most notorious, in part because of a lingering uncertainty about whether they do indeed contain Manzoni's faeces. At times when Manzoni's reputation has seen the market value of these works increase, such uncertainties have imbued them with an additional level of irony. Further Reading: Germano Celant, Piero Manzoni, New York 1972
Freddy Battino and Luca Palazzoli, Piero Manzoni: Catalogue raisonné, Milan 1991, pp.123-8, 472-5, catalogue no. 1053/4, reproduced p.472
Piero Manzoni
, exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, London 1998, reproduced pp.201-6 in colour Sophie Howarth
November 2000

© DACS, 2020

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Venus of the Rags

Michelangelo Pistoletto, Venus of the Rags  1967, 1974

Pistoletto was interested in broadening the material language of Arte Povera, and in creating complex juxtapositions of modern and historical images and ideas. Venus of the Rags appears to bring together an iconic figure of classical culture with the detritus of contemporary society as the solid Roman goddess props up a randomly formed pile of gaudily coloured second-hand clothes. In fact the figure is based on a kitsch statue found in a garden centre rather than a genuine antiquity.

Gallery label, April 2009

© Michaelangelo Pistoletto

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Plank Piece I-II

Charles Ray, Plank Piece I-II  1973

Plank Piece I–II consists of two large framed black and white photographs in portrait format. Both images show a man pinned against a wall by a long wooden plank. He has long hair and wears dark clothes and heavy workman’s boots. The interior space shown in the photographs is sparse, with a plain carpet and white walls. In the first photograph, shown on the left, strip lighting and what appears to be a trestle table can be seen in the background. In this photograph the man is upside-down, facing the wall and stretching his arms towards the floor so that most of his body is pressed against the wall. The plank meets the man’s body at the back of his knee joints, causing his legs to bend away from the wall at a roughly forty-five degree angle. In the second photograph the man faces away from the wall with his feet hanging down towards the floor. The plank meets the man’s body at his abdomen, causing him to slump over it with his arms dangling down. The man depicted in these images is the artist, Charles Ray. The photographs were produced in an edition of seven with two artist’s proofs.

© Charles Ray

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Felt Suit

Joseph Beuys, Felt Suit  1970

Felt Suit was tailored from one of Beuys’s own suits, and can be seen as an oblique self-portrait. Although it was intended as a work to be hung from the gallery wall, he did wear one of the suits in a performance in the early 1970s. For Beuys, the suit was an extension of his felt sculptures, in which the felt appeared as ‘an element of warmth’. He explained: ‘Not even physical warmth is meant... Actually I meant a completely different kind of warmth, namely spiritual or evolutionary warmth or the beginning of an evolution’.

Gallery label, July 2008

© DACS, 2020

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Quartered Meteor

Lynda Benglis, Quartered Meteor  1969, cast 1975

This work was originally made by pouring polyurethane foam into the corner of a gallery. The bottom and two flat sides are effectively a cast of the floor and walls, while the slumps on the front result from the unpredictable behaviour of waves of slowly solidifying foam. It was cast in lead in 1975, giving the sculpture physical weight and presence. While many artists were interested in the literal properties of materials, Benglis wanted to suggest bodily and geological flows.

Gallery label, October 2016

© Lynda Benglis

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Condensation Cube

Hans Haacke, Condensation Cube  1963–5

In the early 1960s Haacke produced works that explored the interactions of physical and biological systems and their natural processes. Although related to the cube form adopted by minimalist artists, Condensation Cube departs from the notion of the static object animated only by the interaction of the viewer. It consists of a sealed Perspex box filled with a small amount of water. Condensation begins to form and to run down the sides of the box, changing according to the ambient light and temperature. The work’s appearance therefore depends upon the environment in which it is placed.

Gallery label, July 2015

© Hans Haacke/VG Bild-Kunst

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Head of a Hostage

Jean Fautrier, Head of a Hostage  1943–4

This work belongs to a series of paintings and sculptures, known collectively as the ‘Hostages’, made in 1943–5. Fautrier spent most of this period in a sanatorium on the outskirts of Paris. At night, he could hear the Gestapo torture and execute prisoners in the nearby woods. The pitted and scarred surface of Head of a Hostage suggests both individual features and the anonymity of bodies found in mass graves. Versions of the piece exist in bronze, but this cast is made from lead, carrying with it connotations of weight, toxicity and mortality.

Gallery label, July 2012

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Nature

Lucio Fontana, Nature  1959–60

Nature is one of a series of works made by cutting a gash across a sphere of terracotta clay, which Fontana subsequently cast in bronze. He believed that the incision was a ‘vital sign’, signalling ‘a desire to make the inert material live’. Fontana was concerned with transformation, and the shifting, yet indestructible density of matter. The Nature series was partly inspired by thoughts of the ‘atrocious unnerving silence’ awaiting man in space, and the need to leave a ‘living sign’ of the artist’s presence.

Gallery label, December 2005

© Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milan

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Poured Painting

Hermann Nitsch, Poured Painting  1963

Poured Painting was made by aggressively throwing and pouring bright red paint directly from the tin onto a large rectangular piece of sacking fixed to the wall, evoking associations of splattered and dripping blood. Nitsch made other paintings in the series by pouring paint onto the floor, or by rolling his body in it. He often used red paint and blood in his performances, which were highly ritualistic and often violent, invoking extreme emotional and psychological states.

Gallery label, July 2008

© DACS, 2020

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Star, Winged Being, Fish

André Masson, Star, Winged Being, Fish  1955

Masson began to make sand paintings in the mid-1920s as a form of automatic composition. By pouring sand onto a surface ribboned with glue, he allowed unplanned elements into his work. When he returned to the technique for later works such as Star, Winged Being, Fish, Masson threw a mixture of glue and sand onto the canvas. The effect was much denser, creating lines and raised islands of sand. In these areas, Masson found elements created by chance that he then enhanced in paint in order to draw out the latent image.

Gallery label, July 2008

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020

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Ikhonkco

Nicholas Hlobo, Ikhonkco  2010

Ikhonkco 2010 is a work on paper created using ribbon and rubber. Light pink and off- white ribbon stitches form chain-like shapes in a diagonal line across the paper. At the end of the chain, in the upper left hand corner, a three-dimensional shape made from sections of paper protrudes from the edges of the sheet, partially enclosing a circle of perforations resembling a plughole. Further across, towards the middle of the page, a small piece of black rubber is enclosed by pink stitches at the end of a meandering line. In the artist’s native Xhosa language ‘Ikhonkco’ literally means a buckle from a belt, but it can also relate to a genealogical chain, or family tree. Hlobo has cut and sewn the paper together with his signature ‘baseball’ stitch, which is not just decorative, but also very strong. The cuts in the paper are sharp and clean, determining where the ribbon sutures will be made and how they will overlap.

© Nicholas Hlobo, courtesy Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town

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Counter and Plates with Potato and Ham

Claes Oldenburg, Counter and Plates with Potato and Ham  1961

Inspired by food, clothing and household appliances, Oldenburg's sculptures introduce surprising modifications in terms of scale, materials and texture. His aim is 'to get people accustomed to recognising the power of objects'. This sculpture represents the counter of a bar with a sandwich, French bread, potato and slices of ham. Oldenburg's sensuous use of colour and texture echoes the surfaces of abstract paintings of the period.

Gallery label, August 2004

© Claes Oldenburg

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Brick Wall

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Elvira Oasis

Michael Buthe, Elvira Oasis  1972–7

© reserved

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Art in this room

Artist’s Shit
Piero Manzoni Artist’s Shit 1961
Venus of the Rags
Michelangelo Pistoletto Venus of the Rags 1967, 1974
Plank Piece I-II
Charles Ray Plank Piece I-II 1973
Felt Suit
Joseph Beuys Felt Suit 1970
Quartered Meteor
Lynda Benglis Quartered Meteor 1969, cast 1975
Condensation Cube
Hans Haacke Condensation Cube 1963–5

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