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The complete history of Cattelan's duct-taped banana

The work was removed because it drew too large a crowd

The complete history of Cattelan's duct-taped banana  The work was removed because it drew too large a crowd

Miami's Art Basel has become one of the most important art fairs in the world, if not the most important. And that's why Maurizio Cattelan, the highest paid Italian artist in the world, chose it to exhibit on Wednesday, December 4th his new work of art, entitled "Comedian", consisting of a banana attached to the wall with a piece of duct tape. The Parisian gallerist Emmanuel Perrotin put it up for sale immediately finding a customer who, anonymously, bought it for 120,000$. A few hours later a second "copy" had been sold and already artist and gallerist had decided to raise the price to 150,000$ for a third sale to a museum.

On Saturday afternoon, however, New York performance artist David Datuna simply pulled the banana off the wall and ate it. The name of the art perfomance was (jokingly or not? At this point there is no real difference) "Hungry Artist". Did Datuna have to pay the hefty price of the work she ate? No, the gallery just attached a new banana to the wall. Gallery director Lucien Terras explained to the Miami Herald:

““[Datuna] did not destroy the art work. The banana is the idea”.

Needless to say, Cattelan's banana has become a viral phenomenon, featuring hundreds of memes and parodies and having its own spoof Instagram profile, created by Galerie Perrotin herself, which intentionally amplifies the online irony surrounding the work. It became so famous in such a short time that four days after its exhibition, on Sunday, December 8, the Perrotin gallery had to remove it because of the uncontrollable crowds it attracted.

In an interview, Cattelan admitted that it took him a full year to "finish" the work. He tried to use resin or bronze bananas but they didn't convince him. Finally he decided to attach a real banana to the wall.

“Wherever I was traveling I had this banana on the wall. I couldn’t figure out how to finish it. In the end, one day I woke up and I said ‘the banana is supposed to be a banana.'”

Whoever buys it will receive a certificate of authenticity and an instruction manual and, when the banana inevitably rots, it will simply be replaced. According to the artist, this installation is a reflection on the value we give to things, a concept with an artistic precedent: the 1961 exhibition-installation "Der Krimerladen" by Daniel Spoerri that consisted of a fruit and vegetable shop where you could buy fruits and vegetables emblazoned with the words "Attention, oeuvre d'art". Also Yoko Ono, in 1966, had put an apple on a plexiglass pedestal and sold it for two hundred dollars. A man had entered the gallery and ate it: his name was John Lennon and that's how he met Yoko. A banana was again been the protagonist of a work of art when, in 1967, Andy Warhol painted one for the cover with removable adhesive of The Velvet Underground album & Nico. In 1999, Cattelan himself had attached the art dealer Massimo De Carlo to the wall with duct tape for a whole day. The title of the work? "A Perfect Day."

If the whole banana situation seems ridiculous, it's because it is deliberately. After all the work is called "Comedian". Perrotin himself said that banana is "a symbol of global trade, a double entendre, as well as a classic device for humor". As for the price, the artist and the gallerist agreed on the absurd figure of 120,000 euros because a lower price would have trivialised the work. Cattelan did not speak of the meaning of the work, saying only:

“I’m not in Miami, but I’m sure it’s full of paintings as well. “I thought maybe a banana could be a good contribution!”