In Focus: How a taped banana questioned the meaning of art

Made with a banana duct-taped to a wall, The Comedian, the latest installation by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, has sparked the debate on the nature of art — especially after the fruit was eaten by performance artist David Datuna. Carla Passino explains more.

The demise of a new installation by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan has thrown open the question of what makes an object a work of art.

Cattelan, the same man behind the fully-functioning, 18-carat gold loo that was stolen from Blenheim Palace earlier this year, is known for his controversial pieces, which upend the very concept of art. His latest work, titled The Comedian and presented by international gallery Perrotin at the Art Basel exhibition in Miami last week, consisted of a banana duct-taped to a wall.

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🍌 Maurizio Cattelan's new sculpture 'Comedian' at Art Basel Miami marks the artist's first major debut at an art fair in over 15 years! Comprised of a real banana affixed to the wall with a piece of duct tape, this new work is no different than Cattelan's hyper-realistic sculptures lampooning popular culture and offer a wry commentary on society, power, and authority. In the same vein as Cattelan's America (2016), this piece offers insight into how we assign worth and what kind of objects we value. The idea of this work came to the artist’s mind a year ago. Back then, Cattelan was thinking of a sculpture that was shaped like a banana. Every time he traveled, he brought a banana with him and hung it in his hotel room to find inspiration. He made several models: first in resin, then in bronze and in painted bronze for finally coming back to the initial idea of a real banana. Discover it on our booth D24! — Art Basel Miami Beach 📍 Perrotin Booth D24 📆 December 5 – 8, 2019 — #MaurizioCattelan #ArtBaselMiami #ArtBaselMiamiBeach #ArtBasel #Perrotin — Courtesy Maurizio Cattelan.

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The idea behind it, according to the gallerists, was to explore ‘how we assign worth and what kind of objects we value’. The past tense is de rigueur, though, because the installation, which comes in three copies, two of which have already been sold to collectors for $120,000 (about £90,000), met an untimely end when performance artist David Datuna took the fruit from the wall, peeled it and gulped it down in a couple of mouthfuls.

‘Art performance by me,’ he posted on Instagram. ‘I love Maurizio Cattelan artwork and I really love this installation. It’s very delicious.’

A member of the Perrotin staff was understandably incensed, but, to be fair to Datuna, the banana would have gone rotten at some stage anyway, so he only saved it from the bin (something that Cattelan had already anticipated by providing collectors with a certificate of authenticity for his artwork and instructions on how to replace the fruit with a fresh one).

But the very nature of the installation — which combines the mundane elements of Tracey Emin’s My Bed to the ephemeral quality of Banksy’s self-destructing painting — questions our very perception of art. Is a work still ‘art’ if it’s just made of everyday objects? If it doesn’t last? If it’s something anyone could replicate—and it has sparked many copycats, some of which are nothing short of hilarious—except that they didn’t come up with the idea in the first place?

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I don’t normally say this about art… but— I could do that. This banana didn’t sell for $120K and this is painters tape. And I admit I, bought this banana with no intention of letting it get ripe and taping it to a wall. But I do think (if it was intended) that the original piece shown in Miami, is an interesting commentary on how we consume art. Presently, things feel so fleeting that the same day something happens it’s also over. I miss the days before the 24 hour news cycle. I miss when things like a banana taped to a wall selling at Art Basel for six figures had a longer shelf life. 🍌 Update: The actual banana that sold at Basel has since been eaten by a performance artist. #artistsoninstagram #artbasel #performanceart #mauriziocattelan #comedian #daviddatuna

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Reactions among the public and art critics alike are certainly split, with some dismissing it as wacky and ludicrous, while others, like The New York Times’ critic, Jason Farago, (grudgingly) defending it as an example of ‘barbs at art from inside the art world’ (while simultaneously dismissing both Banksy and Datuna).

Whatever you think of it, though, the taped banana captured our collective imagination. The Perrotin Gallery had to remove it from their Art Basel booth a day before the closing of the fair because it had caused ‘several uncontrollable crowd movements.’

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We regret to inform you that ‘Comedian’ will be removed from our Art Basel Miami Beach booth for the last day of the fair, Sunday, December 8th. This morning, following recommendations, we removed the installation at 9am. We want to thank the organizers of the fair for their help and continued support. Art Basel collaboratively worked with us to station guards and create uniform lines. However, the installation caused several uncontrollable crowd movements and the placement of the work on our booth compromised the safety of the artwork around us, including that of our neighbors. ‘Comedian,’ with its simple composition, ultimately offered a complex reflection of ourselves. We would like to warmly thank all those who participated in this memorable adventure, as well as to our colleagues. We sincerely apologize to all the visitors of the fair who today will not be able to participate in ‘Comedian.’ — #cattelanbanana #artbaselmiamibeach #artbasel #mauriziocattelan #cattelan #perrotin

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