The $150,000 Banana


Now I’m sure you’ve already heard about
the banana duct-taped to a wall at an art fair in Miami. And about the person who ate the banana. And the multitudes who’ve created their
own gestures in response. You might already have a firm opinion about
it all, too. But I’d like to ask you to clear away for
a moment what you know or think you know about this thing that’s happened, and consider
it with me anew. What do we think of this $150,000 banana? Let’s get the facts in front of us. (And yes, there are still facts.) This real banana, attached to the wall with
a length of standard issue silver duct tape, is titled Comedian, and it the brainchild
of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. It was presented in his gallery’s booth
at the 2019 edition of Art Basel Miami Beach, an art fair that’s been held annually in
Miami since 2002. Galleries from around the world apply to have
the privilege of paying for space to display their wares within the Miami Beach Convention
Center. Then, for a handful of days in early December,
a bunch of mostly affluent people descend on the fair and the many others shows, events,
and parties that have sprung up around it. Collectors come to buy art, of course, but
anyone who can afford a ticket–starting at $50–can come just to look at a ton of art
and witness the fair as a fascinating sociological phenomenon. This is all to say that Comedian was just
one very small work of art in booth D24 in a loud and crowded convention center filled
with thousands of works of art, many of them rather huge. But it didn’t take long after the doors
opened for the banana to attract attention… and also buyers. Galerie Perrotin was offering three editions
of the work for $120,000 each. Two of those sold very quickly, and then the
dealer raised the price to $150,000 for the third, which also sold. There were an additional two “artist proofs”
of Comedian that were both sold to museums by the end of the fair. Now “artist proofs” are generally the
small number of prints in a limited edition that an artist hangs on to for their own collection,
or to hold back and sell later on to someone important. They’re often regarded as special and can
sell for more than the original edition, even though, yes, they are technically the exact
same. And this is very funny in the case of Comedian
because it’s a conceptual artwork! The buyers did not purchase actual bananas
and duct tape. They paid 120 or 150,000 dollars for an idea. All they’re getting is a certificate of
authenticity that proves it’s a verified artwork by Maurizio Cattelan, and instructions
for how to install it. Can anyone who wants to buy a banana from
the grocery store and  tape it to the wall in the exact same way? YES. But only people with the certificate are technically
owners of Comedian, which they can replenish as often as needed with a fresh banana and
duct tape. The museums that own the certificate are the
only ones who can rightfully display a banana duct taped to a wall this way, and put a label
next to it with Cattelan’s name on it. I’m guessing they’ll have the right to
loan out the certificate to other institutions too, who will likely be clamoring to get in
on a piece of the banana action. This may sound absurd, but there are many
examples of this kind of thing in the history of conceptual art. It’s what allows museums and individuals
to own and exhibit wall drawings by Sol LeWitt, who issued certificates of authenticity with
each work, along with detailed diagrams and instructions for how they should be installed. You didn’t need LeWitt to paint the walls
himself when he was alive or even now that he’s not. If you move or want to show the wall drawing
somewhere else, you have to paint over or destroy the old wall drawing, and have it
remade in the new location according to specification. But you’ve got to have that certificate. This is what is simultaneously so maddening
and hilarious about Cattelan’s banana. He has selected one of the most common and
easily accessible of objects, and through will and clout and roguish ingenuity, has
transformed nothing into something of value. All artists perform a type of alchemy when
they turn humble materials into items people will pay money for. But Comedian sets this reality into high relief,
especially with its strategic placement in the context of a sceney art fair, calling
out the absurdly inflated art market and the narrow sliver of the privileged population
that participates in it. But it’s not actually nothing that the buyers
of Comedian receive with their purchase. They now own a valuable artwork by Maurizio
Cattelan. The same Cattelan who has been long been pulling
art pranks and exhibiting in respected museums and galleries around the world. He made a solid gold fully-functional toilet
titled America in 2016 that for a time was available for use in a bathroom at the Guggenheim
in New York. That is, until it was stolen when on loan
for an exhibition in England. But for Cattelan, nothing is sacred. When viewed in the context of his sculpture
of Pope John Paul II being struck by a meteorite, or his miniature figure of Hitler kneeling
in repentance, the banana is pretty inoffensive subject matter, even with its obvious phallic
allusions. But Comedian is firmly in the Cattelan tradition
of exploiting and exposing the things we love, and hate, and hold dear. It pokes fun at our desire for art to be unique,
original, or something we couldn’t do ourselves. And for art buyers and sellers, it laughs
at their susceptibility to hype, name recognition, and the perception of scarcity. Cattalan has a track record for involving
his galleries in his exploits, too. In 1995, he designed a costume for his dealer
Emmanuel Perrotin to wear throughout the run of the show. And in 1999, he duct taped gallerist Massimo
de Carlo to the wall for the entire 2-hour opening. So the duct tape is an art world in-joke,
and also something that ties Comedian clearly to Cattelan’s wider body of work. Oh and the guy really likes to hang things,
by the way. For his 2011 retrospective at the Guggenheim,
Cattelan suspended all of his works from the ceiling of the rotunda instead of putting
them along the walls like usual. Comedian also has plenty of ties to art history,
for those who care about that sort of thing. Marcel Duchamp was the famed progenitor of
the readymade, credited as the first to put a non-art object into a gallery and call it
art, and Cattelan’s banana is certainly part of that tradition. And very many artists have put bananas and
images of bananas to use, like Andy Warhol did in 1967 for his Velvet Underground & Nico
album cover, complete with peelable sticker. The banana has appeared frequently in works
often grouped under the banner of Feminist art, like Natalia LL’s 1970s Consumer Art
series. And art historian Linda Nochlin’s 1972 play
on a 19th Century image of a woman with a tray apples. The Guerrilla Girls have put the banana to
good use in some of their 1980s protest posters, and plenty of other artists have, too. All of these things may or may not have been
on Cattelan’s mind when selecting a banana for this work, but it doesn’t matter. They are all things that makes Comedian a
potentially good investment, and the ultimate Cattelan for a collector to own. They can of course show it off at dinner parties,
or just enjoy the fun of watching it rot and having to always make sure to have bananas
on hand. If that’s your idea of fun. They can also loan it out to museums for shows,
or sell it if they want to, probably making a considerable profit. That is until the art bubble bursts. But for the museums who’ve purchased it,
good god they’re going to be mobbed. Who wouldn’t want to come take a selfie
with the famous banana, although museums are likely going to confront the same challenges
that the gallery did at the fair. Lines formed quickly of people wanting to
see and take selfies with Comedian, and things went relatively smoothly until one fair-goer,
artist David Datuna, decided to remove the banana from the wall and eat it, explaining
that he was performing his own work titled “Hungry Artist.” While it did get a lot of media coverage,
it didn’t mean much to the artwork itself. The gallery had another banana, and Comedian
was back in no time. Because Datuna didn’t eat the artwork. To do that, he would have had to have eaten
the certificate of authenticity. Which is a performance I would actually really
want to see. But the gallery did decide to take the work
down before the end of the fair, because of the crowds and risk to the safety of other
artwork and people in the vicinity. And let’s talk about the gallery for a minute,
because they do play an interesting role in this. Their instagram posts explain Comedian as
related to Cattalan’s past work, offering “a wry commentary on society, power, and
authority” and “insight into how we assign worth and what kind of objects we value.” Which is all fine and good and you can accept
that or not, but the good stuff comes with their post about taking the work down. They say:  ‘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.’” Yes, that’s right. Participate in. Because the artwork isn’t just the banana,
and neither is it the certificate of authenticity, really. It’s all of us. It’s those who flocked to see it, our response
to it, our memes, the press, this video! As Teddy L Wang astutely commented to our
community post about it: “I think the outrage is the art.” And the outrage around the art of course makes
it more valuable, because it makes it more famous, which these days is a proxy for value. “Hungry Artist” may have been intended
as a critique, but in the short run all it’s done is bolster the value of Comedian. Several of you asked me to not make a video
about this, and I get it. Us talking about it gives this work its power,
and it implicates us as players in its scheme. For everyone who loves art or spends a lot
of time trying to make or support truly earnest creative endeavors, both Comedian and Datuna’s
banana-eating are big downers. That the only art that filters out into wider
discussion is multi-million dollar auction sales or this, does devalue the good work
that many are trying to do. And it adds fuel to the already-raging fires
of those who “hate modern art” or think anything art-related is a con game. Some of it is a con game, but not all of it. But whether or not you like Comedian or think
it’s constructive, it does reflect life today. One of the great things art can do is point
to what makes the now moment distinct from all the other moments. And life for many of us is confounding and
absurd and inflated and outrageous. I by outrageous I mean filled with outrage,
at something new and different every week. And it’s rarely about the real outrage,
like the root causes behind the polarization of wealth, but about… bananas. This pool of images we’re swimming in, and
instant meme-ification of everything, has left us even more unsure than we’ve ever
been of what art is supposed to be and do. It shouldn’t shock us that a mere idea can
be worth 150,000 dollars. What after all is intellectual property? What is “influence” and “views” and “likes,”
but social capital that’s been turned into capital captial. Nothing is sacred, everything is a commodity,
and we’re not sure whether to laugh or cry. My problem with Comedian is not that it’s
conceptual, it’s that it comments about our superficiality in a superficial way. It demonstrates what is deeply wrong with
contemporary discourse, but without much depth. Which is to say: It might not be the art we
want, but I fear it is the art we deserve.

100 comments

So at first glance it seemed like the artist was trolling the museum but it was in fact us common folk getting trolled.

Thank Goodness I fohnd this channel.
It basically touches on everything I study in an art university.
I am willing to bet that by watching half of these videos and then talking about their content to the lecturers alone might inpress them or make them think I did some insightful research.

I am chuff to include the videos as part of a student's research process (more like inspiration and brainstorm ideas) as this proves to be very useful.

Thanks Art Assignment!

Writing this comment before watching the video.. but I'm pretty sure its part of turning dirty money clean again like most silly art sales

Damn I thought Modern art was just a way for drug dealers and rich people to circulate their money under the radar.
I didn't even realize that there was a fun side to it, now excuse me while I laminate my toilet in gold and hang a banna on the wall with ducktape.

I think this is the closest I’ve seen Sara get to agreeing with people who see this kind of art as worthless nonsense.

Literally anyone could have made that, and anyone could replicate it. But if you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, you can claim the banana you duck taped to the wall is an artwork by this artist. You can put all of the elaborate words around it you want, but the emperor has no clothes.

This video is incredibly well-written. I aspire to this kind of eloquence, and I love every minute I spend watching these. Thank you so much!

Honestly I love the work as a whole. Yes I'm one who has a dislike for a lot of modern art, only because dumbasses sit there and treat the artists as god like and will spend extreme amounts of money on something that isn't really even worth that much.
Comedian is a good juxtaposition of that effect and does so in a way that really opens people's eyes who think about it long enough. Same thing with Hungry Artist or whatever that act of eating it was called. It's quite funny and honestly I don't think much thought was put into the art or the act of eating it.

If I were the guy who ate the banana I would sell a certificate for his performance piece “The Hungry Artist”.

Then museums could perform it, but only if they also have a certificate for “Comedian”.

The fact that art made such a huge waves into society, means it's relevant.
When was the last time art was tweeted and shared and talked about as much?

could you guys do a video about the movie Velvet Buzzsaw and what it says about the art world and the will of the artist ?

Wutt my friend did exactly the same thing but to offend our African neighbor. By taping a banana to his door. Cause he was terrorizing us. 😂🍌🚪🤣

Video : only people that own the certificate can put the banana in a museum

me : takes cucumber and clear duck tape

Also, I doubt very much he actually MADE the gold toilet. As I've suggested before, as a counterbalance to your valuable insights on the movements and artist personalities, it would be good if you covered those workers behind the scenes, their socio-economic relations and so on – who actually do make and manufacture many artworks – those workers mostly hidden from view, but also artists in my view. Call it 'The impossibility of living in the mind of someone dead or dying' if you like. 🙂

All art is ultimately ephemeral…in just a few millenniums, art and all traces of art will be gone…except that little bit we sent up into space.

Say what you will of post-capitalist art patronized only because of tax law and financialization, but at least it co-ops all of us without our consent.

this is bullshit… i m not commenting, i am performing art (of angry viewer)…. i encourage others to participate….

I was enjoying the video knowing you're pro-education untill you said 'the art we deserve'. Holy crap that's ridiculous. A piece is a piece and it's depth and value is only defined by social factors (historic context/culture/time/space) despite not really existing any criteria to do anything ever. You either like it or you don't, in the sense of not having a preference for it. It just seems its more of a trend to hate on these kind of pieces than to actually get an education and learn about them OR admit that you don't care about it and move on into your own business.
This video would have been great without such a heavy quote. Had to leave a dislike for that, sorry.

How do you buy a banana for 120,000? I don't understand?
It's just going to start rotting, it's not like you can hang it up and keep it?
Is it possible the buyers were just trying to raise attention as a publicity stunt?

wait… the best art… would be if the gallery always has another banana… just KEEP EATING The banana. We'll solve world hunger in no time. Harvest 150,000 dollars worth of banana from the museum. A virtuous cycle, where a work of art feeds the artists

I didn't know they had certificates.
So if I, and i'm sure many others before me, duct tape a banana to a wall, then we're effectively plagiarizing an "artwork"…? 😐🤔

So if a museum wants to display the ‘proof’ for years and years to come, they have to buy and store bananas+duct tape in perpetuity. Therefore, there will eventually be a time when displaying ‘comedian’ costs more than the work itself.

If Picasso wiped his ass and nailed it to the wall and called it his art piece you are still a moron if you buy it, especially if you are insanely rich.
And I doubt Picasso would ever do that as he valued skill. This Maurizio has the imagination of a 10-year-old boy. That has no value.

I we do not create this power ourselves with art, someone else will create this power another way. We need to be the ultimate creators.

The dude who ate the banana made this video a worthy investment (of my time while I was sitting on a non-solid gold, fully functioning toilet).

Leave a Reply