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  • 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 twoartist proofsof Comedian that were both sold to museums

  • by the end of the fair.

  • Nowartist proofsare 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 actually a performance I'd like 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 authorityandinsight 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 Artistmay 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 whohate modern artor 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 aboutbananas.

  • 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.

Now I'm sure you've already heard about the banana duct-taped to a wall at an art

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B1 US art banana comedian duct certificate artwork

The $150,000 Banana

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