Banana duct-taped to wall makes artist $240,000

I have to say that much modern art eludes me, including all-black paintings, urinals signed “R. Mutt”, and so on. I tend to keep quiet about these things, for I’m sure there are erudite scholars around who will artsplain to me the enormous significance of such things, and then I’ll just feel dumb. Or, the riposte could be “it’s art because it’s displayed as art.” That leaves me cold.

But on last night’s news I saw something labeled as “art” that was so bizarre that I can no longer keep silent. I refer to a banana, duct-taped to a wall in Art Basel of Miami Beach, that sold for a cool $120,000. CNN gives the story (click on the screenshot):

The report:

A banana, duct-taped to a wall went on a sale at Art Basel Miami Beach this week — priced at around $120,000. And, according to the gallery behind the work, two of the three editions have already sold, with the last now going for even more.

The work, by Maurizio Cattelan, was presented Wednesday by Perrotin, a contemporary art gallery founded in Paris that has had a long association with the Italian artist.

It is Cattelan‘s first contribution to an art fair in 15 years, the gallery said.

Entitled “Comedian,” the artwork comprises a banana bought in a Miami grocery store and a single piece of duct tape. There are three editions, the gallery said, all of which were offered for sale.

Prior to the reported sale, the gallery’s founder, Emmanuel Perrotin, told CNN the bananas are “a symbol of global trade, a double entendre, as well as a classic device for humor,” adding that the artist turns mundane objects into “vehicles of both delight and critique.”

And the pricey “installation”? See below.  Some sap actually paid $120,000 for this! But, as CNN asks, what happens when the banana rots? Will the work lose its value?

So why did I say $240,000 in my title? Because, as the following piece from New York Magazine reveals (note author’s name!), Cattelan found two saps to buy duplicate works:

The new work has been produced in his usual edition (not to say “bunch”) of three pieces plus two artist’s proofs. Two of the three have already been sold to unnamed collectors; Cattelan knows one of them, and the person “totally makes sense as the buyer.” He’s not in Miami for the fair — he doesn’t go — and, in his New York apartment this morning, he said, “I just ate one of the two artist’s proofs.”

He ate $120,00 worth of art! But that article also gives an “explanation” for what the work means:

“I [Cattlan] was trying to imagine something to symbolize my love of New York, and it was difficult,” he told New York today. “There was a time when the Greek coffee cups were everywhere, and I thought somehow the banana was something that now you can find at every street corner. And [my thinking about this] goes on forever from there — but for sure an eggplant, say, would not have been so effective.” As for the duct tape, it’s the material that holds together half of this aging city: “In my apartment, the pipes are held together with it — I always say that I’d be more concerned if I ran out of that tape than out of toilet paper.” I noted to him that his total materials cost is a little lower, this time, than with the gold toilet. “With one you lose money, and the other you break even,” he responded, and then laughed.

Break even, my tuchas! This guy is cleaning up by confecting tortured explanations for the artistic significance of a banana taped to a wall. And the poor saps that pay $120,000 for a piece of “art” that will rot within a week are even worse. Do you know how many lives in Africa could be saved if that money were used not to buy affixed bananas but to buy Plumpynut nutritional supplement?

I’m sorry, but I’m not buying it—literally or figuratively. The whole thing stinks, as it surely will, literally, within a few days.

65 Comments

  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 6, 2019 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I saw that coverage on CNN or somewhere yesterday. Could not think of anything worth saying about it.

  2. JezGrove
    Posted December 6, 2019 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Ridiculous! At least the organizers can say “No ducks were harmed in the making of the tape used”. (Apologies in advance!)

  3. Posted December 6, 2019 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    About that “urinals signed “R. Mutt”…” [Marcel Duchamp, 1917]

    This is the piece that unleashed the cynicism. It was a deliberate insult to what came before. An act of ugly destruction, passed off as a smug and smarmy joke.

    The 20th century didn’t take it as a joke. They made hay with it. Billions of dollars of hay. This guy with the banana owes Duchamp a finder’s fee. Duchamp found the nihilism.

    You can view the major “works” of Duchamp in a set-aside gallery in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, including the hideous voyeuristic final thing. You have to peek in a hole in the wall to view a banal and dismal scene of random items surrounding a lifeless body of a woman.

    • EdwardM
      Posted December 6, 2019 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      Hay it is…tiresome and fatuous since 1917.

  4. scruffycookie
    Posted December 6, 2019 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I have an undergraduate and graduate degree in painting and printmaking from a large art school on the east coast. I also have a graduate degree and CAS in art conservation. It’s my opinion the people who buy art like this are ignorant and are often convinced by unscrupulous art dealers that they are investing in something that will be very valuable at some point. The major art market dealers have a long history of taking advantage of the ignorant. AS PT Barnum said, a fool is born every minute and the art market dealers can see them coming a mile away.

    • EdwardM
      Posted December 6, 2019 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Suckers. Barnum called them suckers. Both term are apropos, though.

      • scruffycookie
        Posted December 6, 2019 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        Right!! My bad. 🙂 I think sucker is indeed a much more appropriate term.

    • Posted December 6, 2019 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Spot on. I’m fond of at least something from every movement/era (including those black paintings and that urinal) but still wouldn’t pay for them, and if people don’t like what I like that’s fine with me. It’s supposed to be subjective.

      If you “don’t get it” you still might someday and if you “get it” then you do, but if you “don’t get it” and you buy it that’s pretentious as hell.

      I’m curious – have you seen the documentary “Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?”? The closed-minded, anti-science curator gave me flashbacks of my abusive museum work experience.

      • scruffycookie
        Posted December 6, 2019 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

        Response to art is indeed subjective. I do not buy or sell art, but sometimes our clients ask for advice. I urge them to buy what speaks to them personally and not rely on the eventual value of it, which always fluctuates.

        A successful piece of art will speak to everyone at some level–even at a superficial level. I’ve always thought that if the artist has to explain it to me, it’s not successful. 🙂

        I have not seen that documentary and I will look for it this weekend. Many thanks for the suggestion. I’m so sorry to hear you’ve had a bad experience in the museum field. Unfortunately, I’ve heard that from curator friends a lot. You’ve got some very smart people with *very* large egos, working in a relatively small area and fighting over limited territory. That is why I choose to work in the private sector.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 6, 2019 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      Ignorant is being polite.

      • scruffycookie
        Posted December 6, 2019 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

        LOL! 🙂

    • Posted December 6, 2019 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      Bullseye! It made me think of P.T. Barnum immediately!

      That is what is communicated to me: Fraud and con. Kind of like our Prez.

      • scruffycookie
        Posted December 6, 2019 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        Agreed!! 🙂

    • Bill Miller
      Posted December 7, 2019 at 2:07 am | Permalink

      I’ve read that this kind of Art and its extreme prices exist just for money laundering and tax evasion purposes.
      Would someone know more about it?

  5. davelenny
    Posted December 6, 2019 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    In past times, this artist’s ancestors sold to emperors garments made of the finest materials which only the finest people could see.

  6. boudiccadylis
    Posted December 6, 2019 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Should I have $120,000.00 to spent frivously I hope it would be on something more life enriching.

    • Justin Seabury
      Posted December 6, 2019 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      If I had that kind of money I would pay off my house and car and not have to work all the OT I have to to try to afford to live. I wonder if the 120K does cover the removal of the art when the banana rots and gets infested with gnats, or if that was part of the sale too…

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 6, 2019 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Spending it on candy would be more life enriching than this because at least you have the candy.

    • Kahlil Jabroni
      Posted December 7, 2019 at 3:27 am | Permalink

      Not intended to relate to this particular story, but sometimes this sort of thing is used as a way to launder money.

  7. Mike Anderson
    Posted December 6, 2019 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    The neotextual embrace of dematerialism places The Comedian well beyond the Sontagist camp. Cattelan’s most courageous and demanding work thus far, The Comedian explores power relations interpolated into a postconceptual theory that includes language as a whole.

    • scruffycookie
      Posted December 6, 2019 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Artspeak at its most brilliant. Bravo! 🙂

    • Posted December 6, 2019 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      The Painted Word !

  8. Charles Sawicki
    Posted December 6, 2019 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    You have to be really, really rich and stupid to buy this kind of “art”. The banana in the picture is already going bad. Does the significance of this fine piece of work increase as the fruit rots, slips out of the duct tape and falls on the floor? Possibly this would express the damaging effects of global trade on indigenous people.

    • John Conoboy
      Posted December 6, 2019 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      Reminds me of the Banksy painting that had a shredder in it. Sold at auction for $1.4 million and it immediately destroyed itself.

      I just taped 10 bananas to the wall, so I guess I am now a millionaire.

      • Mike Anderson
        Posted December 6, 2019 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

        That half shredded Banksy painting is now valued at double its $1.4 million buying price.

        (That valuation I can understand – it’s the physical embodiment of an historical event in the art world.)

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 7, 2019 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

        I thought of Banksy BUT – if Banksy did it, it would manage to incorporate some degree of satirical wit, and it wouldn’t be for sale for an absurd price.

        cr

        • Mike Anderson
          Posted December 8, 2019 at 10:00 am | Permalink

          Yeah, Banksy is a real artist.

  9. davidintoronto
    Posted December 6, 2019 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Years ago, when I was new to Toronto, a friend was giving me a tour of the busy downtown. At one point, we passed a coin operated newspaper rack – upon which was taped a tuna sandwich. And without missing a beat, my friend pronounced this display “art.” But as far as I know, nobody tried to purchase it.

  10. Posted December 6, 2019 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Gah. On another thread I lamented that children of cults were not exposed to the arts. But via popular culture they could be exposed to this as “art” and get turned right off.

    I will defend the urinal however: that was a deliberate poke at the puffed art world of the time. It was not supposed to ever be treated like the Mona Lisa because Duchamp among others was trying to change the rules.

    In the 1920s the surrealists tried to create not another art/poetry movement but a shocking anti-art/non-literature movement, seeking to unify reality and dreams, the mind and the body, humor and discovery, sex and love, etc. (They were the first to initiate group discussions on sex). They wanted to destroy this elitist crapola that turned created works into auctioned artifacts and instead get in touch with a mystical, secular realm called the Marvelous. “Surrealism is an attitude, not a form” – the point was to achieve a controlled change of consciousness.

    But what was supposed to be a shockingly funny, offensive, revolutionary approach to life in which EVERYONE, including the worker, created because there were no “artists” anymore (provoking angst from the elites), turned into just another art movement, albeit one I appreciate and am fond of.

    (Part of this is due to self-promotion of Dali – most Americans know him but not the earlier, founding surrealists like Breton, Soupault, Aragon and Peret who were primarily poets and polemicists.) And since then, some brilliant radical artists have explored and discovered and made some great pieces, but far too many just try to be derivatively “shocking” to feed their egos. Art should be in the services of a fully lived life, not the fully decorated house or a stuck-up patron, but somehow even the most radical idea gets co-opted. (For years Paris newspapers banned the word “surrealist” because these people were considered so obnoxious – now “surreal” has become colloquial while “dadaist” or “cubist” has not.) So when you have this piece of crap getting play in our popular news you have the worst of both worlds.

    I also worked in an art museum for years and while some curators were amazing, too many people were also in it for the egos, using art to look down on other people. It was one of the angriest workplaces in my experience. I quit (but gave notice) because I finally had a panic attack (I wasn’t allowed to make even the smallest of mistakes or my supervisor and an associate educator would throw tantrums. I’ll never work in an art museum again. Science museums are way better (though my last one had abusive politicking going on).

    The art world is messed up, and that’s painful because I do love a lot of modern art, surrealism, dadaism and abstract expressionism. Most works I love were produced by people who were kind in person and hilarious in interviews. (Some of them were heroes of the French Resistance, too. Look up Robert Desnos, Louis Aragon, Paul Eluard and especially what Benjamin Peret did during WWII.) When an artist or a curator has no sense of humor that’s a big red flag for me.

    (Sorry for the rant, apparently I had to get this off my chest. I care about this.)

    • Posted December 6, 2019 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      I have tried to appreciate modern art. (That’s much too big of a bucket of course.)

      To me, art “works” when it communicates.

      Very little of modern art communicates anything to me except a con. (If everything is art, then nothing is art. Just saying it’s art doesn’t make it so. If you have to explain it … )

    • JezGrove
      Posted December 6, 2019 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      Nicely put, nonpersonne – and I’m sorry to hear about your bad experiences as an art museum worker.

    • revelator60
      Posted December 6, 2019 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      Salvador Dali’s fellow surrealists referred to him by the anagram “Avida Dollars,” in mockery of his commercialism.

    • scruffycookie
      Posted December 6, 2019 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for your rant. 🙂 It was very informative and beautifully written. I’m so sorry about your bad work experience in a museum, but your story is unfortunately not unique. :-/

      Best wishes to you! I hope you’ve found a much better and more nurturing situation. 🙂

    • Posted December 6, 2019 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      I’d say Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” was a better mock.

      I find little to admire in an artist who is dissing and deconstructing others, unless they have something new and affirmative to say.

      Duchamp? Nada.

    • David Coxill
      Posted December 7, 2019 at 7:03 am | Permalink

      Art gallery visitor .
      “Is this a piece of modern art?”
      Art gallery guide .
      “No madam ,that is a fire bucket “.

      Old joke ,still makes me laugh .
      PS ,was Duchamp the original piss artist ?

  11. Posted December 6, 2019 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    >>”Do you know how many lives in Africa could be saved if that money were used not to buy affixed bananas but to buy Plumpynut nutritional supplement?”

    True, but let’s hope that the money came from someone who would have never bought Plumpynut – and has entered the hands of someone who might.

  12. GBJames
    Posted December 6, 2019 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    I ate a banana this morning. Had I known I could have sold it in New York instead!

    • Posted December 6, 2019 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      That atheist’s nightmare banana you had for breakfast was itself a work of art painstakingly and lovingly designed by Jeebus! *ducks* 😛

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 6, 2019 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      You monster!

  13. Posted December 6, 2019 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    IMHO, the value of art lies in the sum of creativity and technique in the item. Neither can be zero. This banana/duct tape combo is zero for both.

  14. Michael Fisher
    Posted December 6, 2019 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    A tax dodge? A money laundering instrument? Many artworks, including stolen & many many forgeries, are kept secure & out of sight at various freeports & bullion vaults, example Geneva Freeport. There are plenty of these in & near airports.

    The way it works is these artworks are exchanged directly for drugs, guns or any nefarious transaction. The artworks stay where they are & only the certificate of ownership is updated – this can be done electronically. The point of the artwork is only that it has an agreed value just like gold & it doesn’t matter if the shark or banana rots [nobody goes & looks] as long as the paper is trusted & ‘backed’ by some rare or unique art commodity.

    • Desnes Diev
      Posted December 6, 2019 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      I would have thought that a banana on a wall could be used as cryptocurrency only when dealing with a gang of orangutan. OoooK!

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted December 6, 2019 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

        Love those books 🙂

        • merilee
          Posted December 6, 2019 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

          You mean the Tom Wolfe ones?

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted December 6, 2019 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

            Dr. Horace Worblehat the former human – a 300lb orang-utan librarian & all around fine chap in the Discworld series of documentaries. He likes to say “Oook!” & I agree with him completely.

  15. Steve Pollard
    Posted December 6, 2019 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    As has been said somewhere before…Art with a capital F.

    Over here, we have just had the spectacle of the four short-listed entrants for the Turner Prize demanding that they share it, and the judges agreeing, and even applauding them for their ultra-woke stance. All four entries are drearily right-on, so splitting the prize is probably the best chance that any of them has of getting some recognition.

    And, without wanting to be narrowly nationalistic about it, none of the four is a UK citizen. Still, I suppose it shows what an open and welcoming society we have…

  16. Posted December 6, 2019 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Where is Morley Safer when you need him? I’ll bet this would have inspired another humorous piece on 60 Minutes

  17. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 6, 2019 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    How does one become a duct tape banana artist? Why can’t I get in on this?

    • Doug
      Posted December 6, 2019 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

      You have to find a master duct tape banana artist and be accepted as his or her apprentice. It takes years of dedication. Most people can’t hack it.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 6, 2019 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

        😄 🍌

      • Posted December 9, 2019 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        I missed the boat – I almost bought plantains yesterday! Oh well.

  18. Posted December 6, 2019 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Of course the banana is not art. It is all the result of a horrendous category mistake in that brazen scoundrels deliberately confuse ‘Arts’ with ‘Visual Display’ we are all familiar with the category of visual display, which includes things such as fireworks, window dressing, packaging design, cake decorations, kids’paintings, carpet patterns, wallpaper, and so forth. The financial gamble is that you can sell-on your visual display before it is devalued by common sense. The very last owner takes the financial hit. Painters tend to be wonderful people, and it is so sad to see crooks promote their tat with aggressive assertiveness.

  19. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 6, 2019 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Tom Wolfe, who did a famously snarky takedown of modern art in The Painted Word, included a set piece on the Miami Art Basel scene in his last novel Back to Blood. It was excerpted as “The Running of the Billionaires” in Vanity Fair.

  20. merilee
    Posted December 6, 2019 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    The Painted Word Was one of Wolfe’s best, imo.

  21. Vita206
    Posted December 6, 2019 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Check out “An Audience with Marina Abramovic” (The Pursuit of Art (Chapter 3) by Martin Gayford. The key point of this chapter and other chapters is that certain art especially a type of art one has previously rejected or ignored, can be a moment of ‘conversion.’ This was what happened for Gayford after interviewing Abramovic.

  22. peepuk
    Posted December 7, 2019 at 5:10 am | Permalink

    The emperor has no cloth.

    This kind of art, is not only funny but, I believe, we could also learn something from it.

    As Epictus once said: “Men are disturbed not by events but by their opinion about events”.

    Our thoughts are not about a banana, duck taped to a wall, but are mostly about our opinions how art should be. Unfortunately this inner emperor also has no cloth, because there are no objective facts about what counts as art or how art should be. We tend to forget that feelings do not necessarily justify facts.

    Only science can give you objective facts or deeper understanding about the banana and the duck-tape. And these facts have nothing to do with esthetics or ethics.

    And that’s no coincidence, I believe 🙂

  23. Mike Anderson
    Posted December 7, 2019 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    https://www.miamiherald.com/entertainment/visual-arts/art-basel/article238148809.html

    SOMEONE ATE THE BANANA! HE ATE THE $120,000 BANANA!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 7, 2019 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

      Damn. Imagine being famous for eating a $120K banana. What would that be like?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 7, 2019 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

        Like eating any other banana, presumably.

        Was it a Philippine banana? Ecuadorian? I’m just curious to know what variety of cultural appropriation was being committed. 😉

        cr

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 7, 2019 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

          No no not the eating part, the weird fame of it.

  24. Posted December 9, 2019 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    What a waste. I hope those who support the endowment of this museum give the curators a good talking to.

  25. Rick Willens
    Posted December 19, 2019 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Just curious…it says the Banana is signed. How…where…with what? Is it signed on the skin or the tape? If it is the skin…it will change as it rots! On the tape…it would keep! So…if it IS signed on the tape…the tape actually has More value than the Banana! The tape in essence is the Art…the banana was just to draw attention…that would be why it could be eaten…it had fulfilled it’s “job”…so, the Tape should then find itself, someday, hanging in the Louve in Paris…maybe next to the Mona Lisa?
    Just thinking out loud…the banana held an important position…without it, the duct tape alone, on the wall, would appear to be patching a hole or crack…but with the Banana (the co-star)…it then becomes…”ART”!!!


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