Art is a strange and wonderful thing. The creation, enjoyment and critique of art are particularly human traits, though the whole thing is a bit like wine tasting: Some people get it, some people don’t, and some people pretend.
One recent piece that elicited at least those three responses was a sculpture by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan that was being displayed at Art Basel Miami Beach. It was, in its most basic form, a real, edible banana duct-taped to a wall.
“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!” the Perrotin Gallery Instagram account shared on Dec. 4.
“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 story behind the piece gives some insight into the artist’s thought processes.
“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!”
The piece sold for $120,000 according to CNN.
Since the unveiling of the work, many have “discovered” the sculpture and have had a variety of things to say about it.
But, as we well know, actions speak louder than words, and another artist added to the legacy of the piece by giving his own performance that he posted on Saturday.
“‘Hungry Artist,’” David Datuna captioned his video. “Art performance by me 🙂 I love Maurizio Cattelan artwork and I really love this installation It’s very delicious 🙂.”
As a crowd watched and a few vocalized their surprise, Datuna calmly peeled the banana off the wall, opened the banana and ate it.
“Thank you, very good,” he said in the video. “You have more?”
While this seems like the sort of thing One Simply Does Not Do, there’s another way in which it was Exactly The Right Thing To Do.
Datuna is standing by the latter assessment, although he’s prepared to deal with authorities who take the former stance.
“It wasn’t vandalism, it was art performance from me and absolutely I am not sorry,” he said during a news conference after the incident, according to CNN. He reiterated his respect for and appreciation of Cattelan, but saw his performance as a communicative act within the artistic community.
“In this case, it’s not like I ate art,” he argued. “Like the gallery said, it’s not a banana, it’s a concept. And I just ate the concept of the artist. So I think this is cool, this is fun, this is what art is about.”
“I call the performance, ‘Hungry Artist,’ because I was hungry and I just ate it. This is how artists talk with each other. We talk by art. This was his art and this was my performance.”
He also admitted that both the cops and the gallery recorded all his information and he is not sure if they will decide to pursue any action — but he’s bold, not stupid: he had his friends ready to call his lawyers if necessary.
View this post on Instagram
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
A post shared by Perrotin Gallery (@galerieperrotin) on Dec 8, 2019 at 7:37am PST
He’s waiting for the verdict, but there’s certainly something oddly fitting about a piece using everyday items being called “Comedian,” being sold for $120,000 and then simply being eaten.
Though this premeditated act of art may seem preposterous, it’s not a first for Cattelan’s work.
The sculpture is a (working) solid gold toilet, valued at about $6 million, which a group of thieves broke in and stole — an impressive feat, considering the toilet was actually hooked up to plumbing.
Cattelan’s response to the thievery? “Dear thieves, please, if you are reading this, let me know how much you like the piece and how it feels to pee on gold.”
He even went so far as to call the burglars “great performers.”
Perhaps Datuna is right, after all.
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