Man eats the world’s most expensive banana

Authentic: The artwork comes with a certificate saying that the banana can be replaced.

Can a piece of fruit stuck on a wall be art? At an exhibition in Miami, an artist duct-tapes a banana to a wall and sells it for £91,000 — only for another artist to come along and eat it.

Art Basel is a renowned art fair, with an annual show on Miami Beach, Florida. This year, the talk of the town was a banana on a wall, titled “Comedian”, made by the satirical Italian sculptor Maurizio Cattelan.

One of the bananas and, yes, it was literally just a banana duct-taped to a wall, sold for an incredible £91,000. The exorbitant sale caused a lot of publicity and the usual outcry of what on Earth has modern art come to?

But there is an even fruitier twist: after being sold, the banana was torn down and devoured by performance artist David Datuna. A director at the gallery said that though he may have eaten the fruit, Datuna “did not destroy the artwork. The banana is the idea”.

Wait, what? How can a banana be an idea? Indeed, how can a banana be a work of art in the first place?

Art has come a long way from just being drawings, paintings and sculptures. John Berger began his seminal TV show Ways of Seeing by seeming to cut the head of Venus out of a Botticelli oil painting with a scalpel.

“I want to question some of the assumptions usually made about the tradition of European painting,” he said. “That tradition which was born about 1400, died about 1900.”

Indeed, since the turn of the 20th century, museums have been filled with far stranger objects. What counts as art has changed.

In 1917, the French artist Marcel Duchamp took a urinal out of a men’s bathroom and flipped it upside down. Exhibiting it proved to be a watershed moment. By simply placing something in a new environment, someone could make it into a work of art. Where the urinal was, mattered more than what it looked like.

Since then, modern art has defined itself largely as a reaction to the commodification of everyday beauty.

In the 1960s, while Andy Warhol made silkscreen prints of commercial soup cans, Piero Manzoni exhibited small tins of his own excrement. Banksy memorably made a canvas that shredded itself after being sold for £1m.

So, can a piece of fruit stuck on a wall be art?

Bananas?

Of course not! The art world today feels like a place for rich people to jettison their money. A banana on a wall is just a banana. Its price tag tells us more about the buyer. If a piece looks like it could have been made by a five-year-old, then it probably doesn’t deserve to be in the same category as a Rembrandt or the Mona Lisa.

Don’t be so conventional, say others. Absurd provocations like “Comedian” stimulate a healthy debate. People are still engaging with art when they complain about how ugly and expensive it is. If art is about representing the world in a way that challenges us, that makes us think, then Cattelan’s banana has done a terrific job. And on top of being stark and irreverent, it also makes us smile!

You Decide

  1. When a banana is worth that much money, does it become something other than a banana?
  2. Who is the more effective artist out of Cattelan and Datuna? The man who sells a banana for £91k, or the one who eats it?

Activities

  1. Think about a work of art that matters to you. Try and describe it in detail to the person sitting beside you. You can use words or draw a picture. Think about which works best.
  2. Present an ordinary object from the room you are in to your classmates. Pretend you are an artist who has chosen to exhibit it in a museum and explain why it should count as art.

Some People Say...

“Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.”

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Irish poet and playwright

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
70,000 people attend the art fair in Miami, where more than 4,000 artists are exhibited. David Datuna described eating the banana as an art performance which he titled, “Hungry artist”. The banana was promptly replaced by another. None of the bananas have anything particularly special about them!
What do we not know?
Whether or not Maurizio Cattelan and David Datuna had pre-arranged for the banana to be eaten; whether it really did take Mr Cattelan over a year to conceptualise the artwork. We also don’t know who bought the first two editions of the artwork, although the third has received a bid from a museum for £114,000.

Word Watch

Satirical
That makes fun of something.
Maurizio Cattelan
An Italian artist. He is known for his satirical sculptures, particularly La Nona Ora (1999), which means “The Ninth Hour”. It depicts Pope John Paul II struck down by a meteorite.
Exorbitant
Very expensive.
Performance artist
Artist who uses their own body and actions as a canvas.
David Datuna
A Georgian-born American artist living in New York City. He is known for the Viewpoint of Millions series, which explores the sources and meaning of cultural identity from each unique point of view
John Berger
English art critic and novelist whose Ways of Seeing, a TV series later adapted into a book, is a must-see for art students
Seminal
Of great importance, that inspires other works.
Botticelli
Early renaissance Italian painter.
Marcel Duchamp
A French-American painter, sculptor, chess player, and writer whose work is associated with Cubism, Dada, and conceptual art.
Watershed moment
A turning point.
Commodification
Making something into a product that can be bought and sold.
Andy Warhol
US pop artist whose work dealt with celebrity and fame.
Silkscreen prints
Artworks using a technique where a silk-screen mesh is used to transfer ink
Piero Manzoni
An Italian artist best known for his ironic approach to the avant-garde.
Banksy
An anonymous, England-based street artist, vandal, political activist and film director, active since the 1990s.
Jettison
To deliberately reject something.
Rembrandt
The greatest Dutch artist ever, famous for paintings and drawings in the 17th century.
Mona Lisa
A painted portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, considered the most famous painting in the world.
Absurd
That shocks and doesn’t make sense.
Irreverent
That doesn’t care about upsetting important people.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.