Maurizio Cattelan's Comedian, or as you might know it- a banana taped to a wall - was recently a feature installation at a Miami art fair. The piece was valued at $120,000. Three buyers had laid their claims to the first few editions. And then a guy ate the banana at the original installation.
If the above sounds too absurd to be true, well, welcome to modern (technically contemporary) art. We're here to break down all of it, from why a taped fruit sold for $120,000, to why a performance artist, David Datuna, who claims to be a big fan of Cattelan's work, ate the banana.
Comedian and The Avant-Garde Nature Of Art Today
Why this installation exists in the first place is the question most people are probably asking.
Cattelan is an absurdist Italian artist, who was also behind the £5 million Guggenheim toilet of solid gold that was recently stolen. He originally intended to create a sculpture of a banana, with several models created, before settling on the idea to just use an actual banana instead.
Comedian is a reference to vaudeville-style humour of slipping on a peel. The strangeness of the piece is the entire point of it, with comparisons to Warhol's Campbell Soup Cans being drawn. How is monetary value ascribed in a consumerist, mass-media operated culture? Judging by the high price point the installation is being sold at, this question is a valid interpretation of the piece.
How The Banana Fetches Sky High Prices
When someone buys Comedian for $120,000, they are not paying for the banana and a piece of duct tape. Instead, they buy the very concept and ideation behind it.
Much like the White on White or Blank Canvas paintings that go viral ever so often, such art is designed to encourage thought and questioning. Art is something that produces a reaction from the audience; even ridicule, it can be argued, is a valid reaction. The confusion and lack of understanding engage audiences with the piece, asking them to think further about it than, say, a photorealist portrait.
Absurdist art is clearly not for everyone, and Twitter has been quick to reduce the Art Basel Banana to money-laundering. Whether you perceive it as a scam, or as a clever piece of work, is entirely up to you. As a media theorist Marshall McLuhan famously said, "Art is whatever you can get away with."
Talent Category: Eating A Banana
When David Datuna, a performance artist, ate the now-viral banana featured in Comedian, the plot only thickened. Why would he risk it when the piece has been valued at $120,000? What happens to him next?
Datuna named his act "Hungry Artist."
"It was a big question mark for all of us—can this banana be an artwork?... With my performance, I put my question mark after his question mark... Conceptually, I ate the concept of the banana.”
According to Datuna, this wasn't a co-conspired act. He'd never met Cattelan before, though he had been an admirer of Cattelan's work. As for legal matters, he'd called upon lawyers and friends before his "art performance" to ensure he doesn't get fined or jailed. What shall happen next for Datuna is unclear at the moment, although he was escorted out of the fair and his details were sent to the police.
What Happens To Comedian Now?
Don't panic- Datuna's performance does not render the sales void. Since the artwork used a real banana anyway, it would have had to be replaced by buyers every few days to stay ripe. At the end of the day, Comedian physically is still just a banana duct-taped to a wall. There is no limit to the number of editions that can be potentially sold; unless Cattelan runs out of bananas or duct-tape, I guess.