Scatological Fascination in the Arts

Earlier this year, artist Mike Bouchet shocked the art world at Manifesta 11 when he produced a work titled Zurich Load. Bouchet worked with the sewage plant in Zurich, Switzerland and using 80 tons of waste produced by the citizens of Zurich, created bricks that he fashioned into a monumental installation work. In order to create the bricks, the material had to be specially treated to prevent mold and bacterial growth, and a few materials added in order to make it form properly. Bouchet said that he wanted people to be comfortable with their waste, and “I like that everyone in Zurich made it, it’s a collaborative work and you know, everyone’s contribution counts, it’s like a community artwork!”


Before you wrinkle your nose at the idea, consider that this is not the first time someone has used human waste as their medium. In 1961, Italian artist Piero Manzoni produced ninety cans of Merda d’artista (Artist’s Shit). Each can was numbered and labeled in German, Italian, French and English as:

Artist’s shit

contents 30 gr net

Freshly preserved

Produced and tinned in May 1961

Artist's Shit 1961 by Piero Manzoni 1933-1963

Artist’s Shit 1961 Piero Manzoni 1933-1963 Purchased 2000

The exact number of cans sold remains unknown, although the Tate Gallery owns one, and several have sold at auction, the last for nearly $200,000.00 (they were originally priced at their weight in gold). To date, no one knows if the cans actually contain the artist’s feces. In Austria in the 1960s, a group of radical performance artists known as the Vienna Actionists performed using bodily fluids such as blood, urine, and feces. In one performance, Günter Brus covered his body in his own feces and sang the national anthem of Austria (a performance which earned him six months in jail). Boris Lurie and Sam Goodman also produced a series of scatologically inspired sculptures for the NO show in 1964. More recently, Chris Ofili caused a stir when he painted a picture of the Virgin Mary that included elephant dung.

While each of these artists had their own articulations as to why they included debased bodily fluids/waste in their work, you can trace the trajectory of the idea to Dada and Georges Bataille. In the use of feces as a material, we can view these works as a redeployment of Duchamp’s ready-made. The ready-made challenged fundamental assumptions about what art is, and these works certainly fit that category. In his texts, Bataille often decried the notion of beauty, arguing the beauty was best encapsulated at the moment of its obsolescence. Maybe you consider roses beautiful, but consider what it is that makes a rose grow (some of the best fertilizers for roses include banana peels, used coffee grinds, powdered fish, and egg shells; waste products). To deny waste is to deny life. Art doesn’t need to be beautiful in order to be transcendental, in fact, art doesn’t need to be transcendental at all.

Study abroad in Italy this summer

Want to spend a summer in Italy while earning three art history credits and three studio art credits? Join us for our upcoming study abroad program in June! After a week of coursework in Denver, we’ll fly to Italy and spend two weeks in Rome and one week in Campania in the Bay of Naples area. In Rome, we’ll study and draw at famous sites such as the Pantheon, Colosseum, Vatican, and Capitoline Museum as well as lesser-known areas including the Basilica of San Clemente, the Renaissance Villa Farnesina with paintings by Raphael, the hauntingly beautiful Non-Catholic Cemetery, and the catacombs of Sant’Agnese. We’ll also go on field trips to see Etruscan painted tombs in Tarquinia, Roman and Renaissance villas in Tivoli, and the ruins of the ancient port city of Ostia. Around the Bay of Naples, we will spend a day in the ruins of Pompeii; visit the ancient Greek temples of Paestum; climb Mount Vesuvius; and walk the cobblestone streets of Naples, one of Italy’s oldest and most vibrant cities. Additionally, we’ll tour a vineyard and taste wine in the shadows of mainland Europe’s only active volcano, sample the famous Campanian mozzarella di bufala, and enjoy the world’s best pizza in the city where it was invented. We’ll also have two free days for you to rest, go shopping, relax at the beach, visit museums, or, if you are feeling ambitious, take a train to Florence, Pisa, or Assisi. If three weeks in Italy isn’t enough for you, join us on an optional trip to Venice for the Biennale, one of the world’s leading international exhibitions of contemporary art.


Rome: Forum Romanum, street art in Trastevere, Piazza Navona, inside the Colosseum, the Pantheon dome, Sistine Chapel

In the art history course Roman Italy and its Legacy, you will study ancient Roman art and architecture and its impact on later art and urbanism with Dr. Summer Trentin. In The Visual Journal, city streets, piazzas, and archaeological sites will become your studio as you explore your creativity with Professor Sandy Lane. The courses are designed to complement each other and give you a once-in-a-lifetime experience of art, learning, and culture.


Campania: Greek temple at Sorrento, street art in Naples, vineyard on Mount Vesuvius, Neapolitan pizza, forum at Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background, street in Naples

Although we are currently in the process of submitting this program for approval and calculating final costs, we estimate that the total cost for the program, including lodging, meals, transportation, six credits, admission fees, airfare, and passport, will be about $6000. Scholarships will be available for art students. You do not need to be a current MSU Denver student to enroll, but you will need to meet the prerequisite of ARTH 1600 (World Art I) and enroll as a continuing education student. For more information, please contact Summer Trentin (strentin[at] or Sandy Lane (lanesan[at] or like our Facebook page.

Fall 2016 upper division art history courses

While it is only mid-July, it is never to early to start thinking about fall courses! We are offering an exciting and diverse lineup of upper division art history courses for the fall. If you haven’t finalized your schedule yet, make sure to check these out. Also, don’t forget about our upcoming study abroad courses in Morocco and Italy!

Latin American Modernisms (ARTH 3481)
Dr. Jillian Mollenhauer
Mon/Wed 3:30-4:45

This course is an introduction to the development of modernism and postmodernism in Latin American art from 1910 to 1980. The course examines artists of differing periods and nationalities within a unifying thematic framework. These themes include: responses to the colonial past; nationalism and public art; indigenismo; folk/ popular arts; and relations with the European avant-garde. However, historical and geographic circumstances also provide a mechanism for distinguishing between individual artists and national or regional art movements. As a result the course examines distinct but intersecting manifestations of modernism within 20th century Latin America.
Prerequisites: ARTH 1700 with C- or better or permission of department

Islamic Art (ARTH 350B)
Leila Armstrong
Tue/Thu 11:00-12:15

This course introduces students to the art and architecture of Islamic lands from the 7th century rise of the Umayyad Dynasty through the Ottoman Empire. Examining the socio-historic and religious concepts within which early Islamic art and architecture developed, this course will provide an understanding of the major themes and the cross-cultural connections of Islamic art. The course follows a primarily dynastic progress and spans North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Middle East.
Prerequisites: ARTH 1600 and ARTH 1700 with C- or better or permission of department

Abstract Expressionism (ARTH 358D)
Dr. Deanne Pytlinski
Mon/Wed 9:30-10:45

This course studies art of the 20th or 21st centuries in a specific geographic location, or under certain social conditions, or within a specific movement, or by focusing on a single or small group of artists. The cultural contexts that informed themes, content, techniques, processes, function and display of the artwork provide fundamental interpretive frameworks. Students identify historical problems in the field of study and examine variations in scholarly interpretations of the works of art. Specific topics may broadly survey art of a region, such as German Art since World War II, focus on particular movements, such as Minimal ism, time periods, such as Art of the 1960s, themes, such as Art and Society or on specific artists, such as Picasso and Matisse.
Prerequisite: ARTH 1700 with C- or better or permission of department

Art of Roman Cities: Pompeii to Palmyra (ARTH 390M)
Dr. Summer Trentin
Mon/Wed 2:00-3:15

Students in this course examine the art and material culture of the ancient Roman world outside the capital city of Rome, from southern Italy to the fringes of empire. Beginning with ancient Pompeii, the best preserved and most studied Roman city, the course then considers Roman cities in Europe, North Africa, Turkey, and the Middle East. The course focuses mainly on the role of art in everyday life, including the arts of the domestic sphere, such as houses, gardens, luxury objects, and jewelry; and public structures, including baths, taverns, temples, and amphitheaters. Issues such as romanitas (Roman identity), colonialization, class, gender, social status, and religion are considered.
Prerequisite: ARTH 1600 with a C- or better or permission of department

Global Renaissance Courts (ARTH 450F)
Dr. Jessica Weiss
Tue 5:30-8:20

Students in this course explore how the commissioning, collection, and display of luxury goods played a vital role in the formation of identity for kings, queens, and courtiers at courts located around the globe from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries. Beginning with a close analysis of Thorstein Veblen and Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas of consumption, the course then adopts a broad geographic scope to compare courts, courtly patterns, influence, and interaction from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas in order to analyze the crucial role played by material culture in communicating power and position. This course investigates the different ways art at the court responded to shifting political, religious, economic, and cultural landscapes.
Prerequisite: ARTH 1600, ARTH 1700 and ARTH 2080 with a C- or better in each and oral, quantitative and written literacy requirements fulfilled or permission of department