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The $150,000 Banana

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.

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100 thoughts on “The $150,000 Banana

  1. just taped a banana and a smint to the wall of my dorm(you can buy a certificate for 200k(150K for the banana and tape and 50k because of the smint))

  2. It's dumb because it's supposed to be dumb and the artist laughed all the way to the bank. I'd have personally titled it "Hilarious" myself.

  3. It is the affluent that are in on the joke though… They are fully aware the absurdity of how much they will spend for an idea and the absurdity of how the idea will then become of culture value. To me that is absolutely not art. It is the definition of marketing and branding in the 21st century. This continued post-modern self aware jesting is intellectually toxic and is undermining our values and principles of quality as a society. It's fucked and I hate it.

  4. So how does copycatting art like this work? Do you replicate the banana on the wall, or the certificate?
    If fame is so important for an artworks price tag, how much are the certificates even worth in 5 years?
    Is hanging the certificate onto the wall the same has hanging the artwork?…

    I know asking these questions right after each other seems dodgy. But I promise you, I'm not an art thief.

  5. Grey and yellow and specks of black are a pretty color combination. The surface of duct tape is a bit similar to a banana.

  6. Anyone who buys this crap deserves what they got coming. Catwoman isn't an artist. He's a court jester amusing a hoard of over botoxed rich bitches.

  7. We don’t care what the art is of. Sure go off paint a picture of the queen being eaten by a duck. But the art has to have meaning and have taken really time to consider, make and do. You can’t just tape up a banana.

  8. Duchamp started this when he exhibited a urinal he found in the trash and signed it R Mutt. But for christ sake he meant it as a joke. Unfortunately, no one got it and the conceptual art movement was born. Then the era of shitty art started.

  9. here is my takeaway from much of conceptual art: i am interested, but i don't engage.

    i rather find it amusing .. all of it, the makers, the buyers and those who get upset. though i must say that i do pity those who get upset, because they are the sole driver of all of it. it is actually quite funny that after decades of art doing that, she still gets away with it as a new waves of upsetees are very justifiably … upset.

    so: hail maurizio and the guy who ate the thing and the buyers and collectors: more power to you!

  10. I love listening to you speak. You bring the far-out down to everyday common understanding and I'm an abstract artist myself and I fail to see through all of this sometimes.

  11. You look like the person who the teacher was talking to on the bus before she yells at the entire bus for talking too loud on the way back from a field-trip.

  12. Art critics are the most gullible, sad, embarrassing people I have ever come across. Seriously, it's unbelievable how stupid and gullible these people are. It's so easy to use there egotism against them to make fun of them while they haven't a clue.

  13. This is such a good episode! I’m personally still thinking about this entire “event” before I feel comfortable saying much about it

  14. The maddening thing is that, while anyone can duct tape a banana to a wall, not just anyone can sell it for $150,000. The only reason the "artist" was able to is because he was already established.

  15. 2nd to Anthropologists art historians are pretty irritating。。 haha great video lot of info even if i did zone out several times… i just several key ideas of inspiration & then a flood of ideas start floating round my head

  16. Really, the fact it could gather so much attention when there were so many other artworks at the same exhibition goes to show the quality o it

  17. 'This may sound absurd…' MAY? Its's definitely absurd. Modern art is garbage. You rich people out there are the only ones who can bring back quality art. Stop buying shit like this.

  18. Representation of reality in reverse entails concept art qua political constructivism as operational in advanced capitalist society.

  19. Outrage alone isn't good art. Shooting the queen would create outrage and comment on your views of the modern world, but it's without depth, artistically speaking. Like she said, Comedian has no real depth behind it. Creating outrage is easy.

  20. Imagine being smart enough to make the money needed to buy a $150.000 art work. Then you buy a banana duct taped to a wall. Humanity never stops to entertain me.

  21. And how many bananas can you buy to feed the homeless with that money; and some duct tape to tape the mouths of those who talk zero sense. I believe you can put the banana to good use…

  22. I think, it's about sending a message that art isn't just copying what is already in reality but something meaningful.

  23. Hi Sarah, I would looove if you do a video about Fabian Chairez's "Gay Zapata", I don't know if you heard about it but it caused quite a stir here in Mexico, maybe it's too local, but a video about art causing public outrage would be interesting. Cheers!

  24. I’m also an artist my name is Drew Peacock. I’ve done something very similar to this. I’ve duck taped lady toys to my walls in my bedroom and I’m selling them for the low price of 200k each. I’m call it “wankers on walls” if anyone wants to buy one just lmk it’s very limited production and won’t last long.

  25. "What do we think of this $150,00 banana?" Trash! The only person who should be spending money on such stupidity is Oscar the Grouch. At least he'll put it where it belongs. I'm an artist as well, but I'm not about to cheapen my worth with such insultingly low effort. Why have art critics and collectors accepted these minimalist standards of what constitutes art? It's literally garbage.

  26. I think this brings everything a lot more into perspective about conceptual and just art in general when it comes to commodifying a piece. You are purchasing an idea, and that value is often arbitrary and dictated by who's willing to pay

  27. the way some people reacted to the wall banana is like people coming out of Ghostbusters pissed off that they didn't get a serious horror film

    like this is transparently a joke piece made by a guy with a long history of making goofy stuff. it's titled "the comedian" for corn sake its not meant to be taken seriously

  28. Banana is getting extinct though. TR4 ia literally in every continent now except South and Central America. Cavendish is going to be extinct soon and it going to be expensive to redo Comedian from time to time.

  29. Is it maybe a stretch to give credit to Cattelan for the conceptual piece being about the art market and all spoken about in the video when in reality he could have just wanted to see what happened. Did he ever state his intentions about the piece before setting it into motion?

  30. If Van Gogh once took a shit on a canvas it would sell for millions. If a nobody did that then it wouldn’t sell. It’s like going to a concert to see the musician but not caring about what music they play.

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