A banana duct-taped to a wall was sold last year for a hard-to-stomach $120,000 at Art Basel Miami —
In the past few articles, I've spoken about the evolution of art, its history, and the processes of the artists behind modern artistic movements to better understand the meaning and relative point of reference for those kinds of artworks. However, some “modern” art – and yes, we say that in quotation marks – transcends that history and evolves into something else entirely.
One such artwork was the famous duct-taped banana. Yes, you read that right. This article will go into my thoughts on whether, or not this piece is indeed an artwork, or not. Hopefully, you’ll be able to comment on this post and let me know what you think too – is it art, or a gimmick?
First, let’s understand the background behind the duct-taped banana.
Behind the scenes
Maurizio Cattelan, the creator of the above artwork, is an Italian artist who is known in the art industry primarily for his hyper-realistic art, chiefly in the form of sculptures and art installations. A core aspect of his artwork contains humor and satire on art, society, and capitalism – similar in that sense to works created by Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol.
Jonathan P. Binstock, curator at the Corcoran Gallery of Art has described Cattelan as being “one of the greatest post-Duchampian artists… and a bit of a smartass, too.”
The duct-taped banana, dubbed “The Comedian” by Cattelan, is the result of his process as an artist. By understanding the “point” of his art from above, it can help us understand why this piece was created.
“The Comedian” has certainly shaken the art industry and many artists feel conflicted about the piece – myself included among them. It has caused this because of how much it sold for - $120,000 at Art Basel in Miami. Again, you heard that right. $120,000 for what is essentially a common household fruit and a few pieces of tape.
I find this frustrating as a working artist. I've invested a lot of time, money, and energy into learning my craft and producing work of which I'm proud of, and often never see the kind of value attributed to my work that "The Comedian" did.
Why did it sell for that much? And is there a problem in the art industry? Are these kinds of “modern art” a scam?
Art in bed with business
First of all, it sold for that much because someone was willing to pay for it – but what were they buying? Most paintings, illustrations, and sculptures can be hung, or displayed for lifetimes given the proper care. The Miami Herald reported that the banana was in fact about to begin the process of rotting as it was sold. Cattelan’s response to the buyers? “You can replace the banana if you so choose.”
The second problem is that the art industry is focusing on the conceptual aspect of the piece, rather than the actual artistic skill that went into its creation. Emmanuel Perrotin, founder of the gallery wherein “The Comedian” was displayed, told the news that the piece is about how the meaning and importance of objects change in the context.
Perrotin stated further, “Whether affixed to the wall of an art fair booth or displayed on the cover of The New York Post, Cattalan’s work forces us to question how value is placed on material goods. The spectacle of the piece is as much a part of the work as the banana.”
While there is a point to be made with how art is valued – another issue in the art industry entirely – it is utter ridiculousness for artwork such as this to gain such renown, money, and exposure for "modern art." Isn't it just a scam? That depends entirely on how well you can market a piece such as this and find someone willing to buy.
What do you think?
Having said all that, was Cattelan trying to highlight this inherent issue in the art industry by creating this piece? It’s difficult to say – but one thing is true…
On one hand, it is a critique of the absurdity of the art market and its capitalistic nature, yet on the other, it is part of the problem it is highlighting. Cattelan is having his banana cake and eating it too.
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