10 Incredibly Filthy Works of Art


As every artist knows, it’s good to get your hands dirty every once in a while. And there’s something undeniably wonderful about messy, filthy, dig-your-hands-in art, a departure from pristine lines and immaculate form. Recently, The Pace Gallery opened its summer season with “Through the Claw,” a performance piece by Kate Gilmore in which several women decimated a block of clay with their bare hands, getting understandably filthy in the process, and we were inspired to come up with some of our favorite messy artworks for your visceral viewing pleasure. After all, it’s summer. What better time to get a little dirty? Click through to see some of the messiest artworks we’ve ever seen, and let us know which of your favorites we’ve missed in the comments!

Kate Gilmore’s “Through the Claw,” 2011

Recently, The Pace Gallery kicked off its summer show, Soft Machines, with this insane performance piece wherein five women destroyed a block of soft clay with their hands and bodies. It only took them about two and a quarter hours, which considering the photographs, we think is fairly impressive.

Photos by Benjamin Sutton

Francine Spiegel’s Curse of the Century Old Egg/Mud and Milk, 2009

Francine Spiegel, who is known for work that dissects the “monstrous feminine,” choreographed a filthy performance piece in conjunction with and preparation for her show Mud and Milk at the now-defunct Deitch Projects in NYC. The performance basically included ten women covering themselves and each other in an ungodly mess, a mix of horror movie and food fetish standbys that included “10 pounds of grits, 5 jugs of pancake syrup, 10 squirt bottles of grape jelly, 5 bottles of Pepto-Bismol, 20 buckets of tempura paint, 20 cans of whipped cream; plus silly string, shaving cream, Fruit Loops, flour, Kool-Aid, glitter, pie, marshmallow Fluff, fake arms, fake blood and chocolate syrup.” The photographs from the event were then incorporated into Spiegel’s paintings, creating a whole other mess of association and internal reference.

Photos by Kristy Leibowitz

Millie Brown, Nexus Vomitus, 2011

You may have already been apprised of this video piece in our feature on artworks created with the artists’ own body fluids, but we feel it bears repeating here. Brown calmly sips her “paint” milkshakes through a dainty straw and then vomits the colors back up onto a canvas to a graceful tune.

Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, Black Acid Co-op, 2009

Another Deitch installation, “Black Acid Co-op,” the third iteration of Freeman and Lowe’s original project, “Hello Meth Lab in the Sun,” was a surreal walk-through of a dilapidated house, destroyed by a home meth-lab explosion. Incredibly detailed and ordered mess surrounds you as you descend into the drug-addled space, itself destroying a real space, its ringing absence of life as overpowering as its evidences of scrabbling meth mania.

Photos by Greg Kessler

HA Schult’s Trash People


German conceptual artist HA Schult has been creating his life-sized “Trash People” for years. In 1996, he installed the first army in the Amphitheatre of Xanten, and he has since brought them to historical and architectural sites like the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids, and many more. His sculptures are made up of crushed cans, discarded electronics and other garbage, and though we imagine they don’t smell, you just never know.

Paul Hazleton’s Dust Sculptures

British artist Paul Hazleton creates impossibly delicate, ethereal sculptures from ordinary household dust that he collects. “I think it all has something to do with the fact that I was brought up in an immaculate environment that was really clean,” he has said. Well, it’s a good deal better than OCD, that’s all we can say.

Martynka Wawrzyniak, Chocolate, 2010

This performance piece is nearly 10 minutes of chocolate being poured onto Wawrzyniak’s face, through which she remains totally impassive. Even though this may be one of the pleasanter kinds of filthy, we can’t say there’s anything clean about being systematically doused in a sticky liquid. And it looks insanely uncomfortable.

Hannah Bertram, The Silence of Becoming and Disappearing, 2010

In her project The Silence of Becoming and Disappearing, Bertram created 10 beautiful site-specific dust installations in private homes. She writes, “Residents will experience the work during the stages of construction, viewing and deterioration -whether natural or considered. In one home the installation will last only a couple of hours, in another it will be protected by glass, some residents will let the work take it’s natural course – probably long enough for further dust to settle and accidental footprints to make their mark, one home will let the weather decide and another will hide it away in a draw hoping it will last for forever.” To be fair, this may be the most immaculate use of dirt and dust we’ve ever seen.

Dash Snow and Dan Colen, NEST, 2007

Thirty volunteers spent three days shredding two thousand New York City telephone books to create a ‘hamster nest’ for Dash Snow. Infamously, Snow and Colen used to create these wherever they went, “shredding enormous amounts of whatever paper material they can get their hands on and ransacking the interior of their selected space in an exuberant overnight fête. Over the years this has taken place in hotel rooms all over the world, existing only in occasional Polaroids, video, and the memories of exasperated hotel staff.” Snow and Colen gathered a group of artists around him to finish the space, and even brought in Gang Gang Dance to give a concert for the opening event.

Photos by Kristy Leibowitz

Raumlabor’s House of Contamination, 2010

An interactive exhibition at the 2010 Artissima International Art Fair, the House of Contamination is actually an indoor village made entirely of garbage. Doesn’t get much filthier than that.

Photos via Inhabitat