Starving Artist
December 8, 2019 3:02 AM   Subscribe

"The banana is the idea": Performance Artist Eats $120,000 Banana Off Wall at Art Basel Gallery [Daily Beast]

A $120,000 Banana Is Peeled From an Art Exhibition and Eaten [NYT]
Someone ate the $120,000 banana at Art Basel. Some quick thinking saved the day (with video of the act) [Miami Herald]

David Datuna's Instagram
Maurizio Cattelan previously on MetaFilter
Bananas previously on MetaFilter
posted by chavenet (91 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
When he arrived at the gallery, he was visibly upset, but a spectator handed him his own banana.

This is a flawless story.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 3:21 AM on December 8, 2019 [26 favorites]


Comedy!
posted by growabrain at 4:27 AM on December 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm a total art snob – I like all manner of conceptual, abstract, minimalist, and provocative art. And I've long rolled my eyes at the Philistines who say things like "that's art?", or "my toddler could do that!"

But, every once in a while, I see where they're coming from. I'm totally fine with duct-taping a banana to the wall and calling it art. But charging (and paying) $120,000 for it? That is completely dumb. Kind of offensive, actually, when you consider how much good that money could do elsewhere.

Make your own duct-taped banana. It'll cost you less than a dollar.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:51 AM on December 8, 2019 [16 favorites]


Miami Beach is so cute sometimes.
posted by wierdo at 5:07 AM on December 8, 2019 [5 favorites]


I could have enjoyed this once upon a time, but nowadays I get way too much of a "watch us caper for the king" vibe from this kind of thing. Look, it's subversive art! But don't worry, of course you are in on the joke, clever sire.
posted by phooky at 5:08 AM on December 8, 2019 [33 favorites]


I've just spent the morning increasing the value of my house by $600K. 3 feet of duct tape, and 5 bananas later my house is now worth over a million dollars!
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:23 AM on December 8, 2019 [37 favorites]


That duct taped banana probably tasted amazing.

If a chef could make a meal that tasted like defiantly protesting gross stupidity, inequality, banality and ignorance, that chef would be a god.
posted by Philipschall at 5:38 AM on December 8, 2019 [7 favorites]


Guy Fieri?
posted by j_curiouser at 5:47 AM on December 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm a total art snob – I like all manner of conceptual, abstract, minimalist, and provocative art. And I've long rolled my eyes at the Philistines who say things like "that's art?", or "my toddler could do that!"

escape from the potato planet and friend critiquing an installation with very similar artistic intentions. :-)
posted by Naberius at 5:49 AM on December 8, 2019 [8 favorites]


In an earlier duct tape piece, Cattelan had taped a rival dealer to the gallery wall.
posted by progosk at 5:49 AM on December 8, 2019 [5 favorites]


(rival to the banana’s dealer, that is: De Carlo was wall-mounted at his own gallery space.)
posted by progosk at 6:03 AM on December 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


Not sure what the idea behind the banana piece was, but eating it was one of the best moments in modern art. The banana was going to rot and have to be replaced anyway.

It would have been better if he ate the banana and then, using a new roll of tape and a new banana, taped another banana to the wall.
posted by dis_integration at 6:07 AM on December 8, 2019 [6 favorites]


But charging (and paying) $120,000 for it? That is completely dumb. Kind of offensive, actually, when you consider how much good that money could do elsewhere.

The question is, is it more likely to do good in the hands of someone who would pay $120k for a banana, or in the hands of someone who would accept $120k for a banana?
posted by jon1270 at 6:07 AM on December 8, 2019 [43 favorites]


"The banana is the idea"

Or is it the idea that's the banana? Discuss.
posted by Paul Slade at 6:11 AM on December 8, 2019 [7 favorites]


But charging (and paying) $120,000 for it? That is completely dumb.
I also like provocative art and roll my eyes at scoffers and philistines. In my opinion, the person who paid $120K for this was not dumb at all, they were an active participant in the story which is this piece. Their purchase in a way completed the work. If it hadn't sold for such a "ludicrous" price, we wouldn't be reading and talking about it. Plus, the money is not going to a bad place, the buyer is supporting a working artist, who is doing brilliant work (see "America"). Bravo!
posted by crazy_yeti at 6:11 AM on December 8, 2019 [22 favorites]


That was genius performance art, and I love that the certificate of authenticity supposedly stays intact for the buyer.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:12 AM on December 8, 2019 [4 favorites]



This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the banana
you had duct-taped
to the gallery wall

and which
you had improbably
sold
for $120,000

Forgive me
it was delicious
sot art
and so trolled
posted by chavenet at 6:14 AM on December 8, 2019 [50 favorites]


I bet this intervention increases the value of the artwork.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:15 AM on December 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


The banana in the picture is at the perfect lightly-speckled stage, so it was probably delicious.
posted by clawsoon at 6:19 AM on December 8, 2019 [4 favorites]


semantic satiation
posted by thelonius at 6:20 AM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'd be shocked if Cattelan didn't pay Datuna to eat the banana just after it was sold. The act really did complete the work.
posted by Daily Alice at 6:22 AM on December 8, 2019 [7 favorites]


There are no innocent billionaires, only innocent bananas.
posted by clawsoon at 6:22 AM on December 8, 2019 [9 favorites]


How does this advance art? Will anyone remember this in 10 years? Will it change what anyone perceives art to be? No, it will not be remembered. It is just some mildly amusing clickbait. Oh look, he ate the $120,000 banana, isn't the art world quirky.
[Sorry, maybe I'm just in a non-receptive state at the end of a long and exhausting year. I'll probably be better after a lay down and a cup of tea.]
posted by drnick at 6:36 AM on December 8, 2019 [6 favorites]


The only reason to buy a banana for $120K is a truly audacious money laundering scheme.
posted by JDHarper at 6:44 AM on December 8, 2019 [15 favorites]


> But, every once in a while, I see where they're coming from. I'm totally fine with duct-taping a banana to the wall and calling it art. But charging (and paying) $120,000 for it? That is completely dumb. Kind of offensive, actually, when you consider how much good that money could do elsewhere.

That $120,000 was not money taken directly out of the funds of people working fast food counters and cleaning houses. That was money taken from people who can afford multi-kilobuck art on a whim because their personal wealth increases rapidly enough to make the cost unnoticeable. (See also: It's not worth Bill Gates' time to pick a thousand dollar bill up off the floor.)

Even if the $120,000 goes straight into the hookers-and-blow funds for a trust fund kid cosplaying as an artist (and it wouldn't, the art world doesn't work that way even when it looks like it does; the kid would be getting $60K at most), it's still loosening up and spreading around a bolus of money that was otherwise destined for a tax-sheltered anonymized account in the Caymans to never be seen again.
posted by ardgedee at 6:47 AM on December 8, 2019 [16 favorites]


"I mean it's one banana, Michael, what could it cost? $120,000?"
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 7:18 AM on December 8, 2019 [70 favorites]


i regret to inform you that i have bad news for you about the entire high end art industry
posted by phooky at 7:19 AM on December 8, 2019 [9 favorites]


The only reason to buy a banana for $120K is a truly audacious money laundering scheme.

It's not even audacious anymore. It's pedestrian. The entire art industry is money laundering and tax evasion. Has been for decades.

I will leave it up to the reader to determine whether this is "better" than when it was just rich people acting like it meant something cultured and made statements about society.
posted by Etrigan at 7:21 AM on December 8, 2019 [4 favorites]


Wasn't there a quote from one of the Dadaists about how art is like a banana, best consumed on the spot? It's a really hard thing to google.
posted by bleep at 8:03 AM on December 8, 2019 [4 favorites]


This is all just a lead up to a banana stand line, isn't it?
posted by cowcowgrasstree at 8:05 AM on December 8, 2019 [5 favorites]


I prefer my duct-taped banana Fluxus-style, with no banana and no tape. And no eating.
posted by kozad at 8:44 AM on December 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


That $120,000 was not money taken directly out of the funds of people working fast food counters and cleaning houses. That was money taken from people who can afford multi-kilobuck art on a whim because their personal wealth increases rapidly enough to make the cost unnoticeable.

How do you think one becomes able to afford multi-kilobuck art...?
posted by Reyturner at 8:47 AM on December 8, 2019 [12 favorites]


An old friend used to work for XXX XXXXXX, who made art out of fluorescent lights. Cheap, unremarkable, fluorescent lights. The commercial object of the pieces was the ‘certificate’ attesting to the collector having purchased the piece, and instructions as to how to ‘assemble’ the piece. To tweak the whole process XXX sometimes would ‘forget’ to sign the paperwork
posted by From Bklyn at 8:51 AM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


This whole thing reminded me of Gober’s bag of donuts. Similar but a little different
posted by From Bklyn at 8:59 AM on December 8, 2019 [4 favorites]


> How do you think one becomes able to afford multi-kilobuck art...?

Sure, but can we at least accept the premise that the current world contains wealthy people, or must we frame every conversation on what we wished the world was? If it must be the latter, we can close this thread up now because it will be exactly the same conversation as every other Mefi post that touches on the conduct of wealthy people.
posted by ardgedee at 8:59 AM on December 8, 2019 [10 favorites]


JDHarper: "The only reason to buy a banana for $120K is a truly audacious money laundering scheme."

The art market is disastrous for museums. The can't afford to bid on works because the prices are so inflated and their insurance premiums are sky high because the value of their collections is worth many times more than the buildings their displayed in.
posted by octothorpe at 9:04 AM on December 8, 2019 [9 favorites]


Ars longa, banana brevis.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:26 AM on December 8, 2019 [19 favorites]


Somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't eating the banana without that destroying the certificate of authenticity actually made the piece better as an investment? There's no actual piece to store, transport, insure, etc. In fact, couldn't this scheme be used to reduce costs throughout the "art industry"? Simply have someone make something, have it certified, sell it to some dark money billionaire and then destroy it. Then the "owner" could do all the financial shell games they like without actually having to bother with the object itself.

And then, when that gets tiresome, some brilliant artist could subvert that scheme by simply producing certificates of authenticity directly and we can have this discussion again.
posted by Reyturner at 9:53 AM on December 8, 2019 [7 favorites]


"... the original banana is now making its way through Datuna’s digestive tract. But the work comes with a certificate of authenticity, and that’s what collectors are really paying for...."

I look forward to reading about the turd certified as having begun as the banana, having completed its trip through Datuna's digestive tract.

That's the real shit, man.
posted by hank at 10:07 AM on December 8, 2019 [7 favorites]


I have been thinking very deep thoughtful lately and one of them is that art is something that was designed by a human to make another human have a conversation with themselves about it. It's kind of a crazy thing that we can make thoughts appear in each other's heads and I think art is us being obsessed with that ability. By that definition this was a successful art. Someone did the thing and the thing made us all have a conversation with ourselves about it and that's *all* it did.
posted by bleep at 10:21 AM on December 8, 2019 [7 favorites]


Is it art just because I ate it off a wall?
posted by snofoam at 10:49 AM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


This is exciting to witness as an artist. Because this will go down in history. This is the kind of moment that creates a movement.

What just happened was that in the eyes of the public, the field of contemporary art was stripped down into a simplistic, highly recognizable bit of clickbait. This was a ridiculous object that caused instant viral controversy and derision within and without the art world, because it called into question the value of art itself. (On a long enough timeline, even the hardiest works of art will be lost, so is the idea of the work itself worth anything..?) Then it was sold for what seemed to everyone to be a ludicrously inflated price, only to be LITERALLY CONSUMED by another artist, completing its narrative arc.

Lmfao. I'm geeking out. By any metric this was/is a successful piece.

It can't be done again the same way, ever. And if it turns out to have been a money laundering scheme, it would only make it better art.

I don't want to summon up that targeted t-shirt AI, but...I want the banana on a t-shirt.
posted by captain afab at 11:20 AM on December 8, 2019 [19 favorites]


Also, to the commenter who quoted Lucille Bluth, that was the single most masterfully appropriate AD reference I've ever seen
posted by captain afab at 11:27 AM on December 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


"Is this art a joke to you??"

"Is this joke an art to you?"
posted by clawsoon at 11:27 AM on December 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


but...I want the banana on a t-shirt.

It would be mistaken for a velvet underground band t-shirt. Ah, high art
posted by erattacorrige at 12:00 PM on December 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


If noteworthiness, novelty, questions of the meaning of value and authenticity, and a compelling narrative arc commenting satirically on society make for successful modern art, then I nominate "2008 Financial Crisis" and the followup piece "Bitcoin" as the greatest artworks of the last 20 years.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:17 PM on December 8, 2019 [11 favorites]


> And if it turns out to have been a money laundering scheme, it would only make it better art.

I'd like to know more here. I've never understood how stuff I really love seems to be flagrantly involved with money laundering. Richter is a particular favourite, and sells for ridiculous money. I expect the material side of money laundering to be tat, like Hirst's skull, or this.
posted by stonepharisee at 12:29 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


> hasn't eating the banana without that destroying the certificate of authenticity actually made the piece better as an investment?

He should have eaten the certificate of authenticity along with the banana . . .
posted by flug at 12:33 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


Seems like the low-tech version of the recent Banksy.
posted by flug at 12:36 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's a bit like the National Anthem (pig fucking) episode of Black Mirror. The jig is up when the senior woman in charge recognises "It's a statement!"
posted by stonepharisee at 12:40 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


Last night I was at a party in the Art Basel penumbra area, and saw a group of attendees in the dance area, all of whom had bananas duct-taped to their costumes. The best anyone in my group could come up with by way of explanation was that it was some kind of commentary on living in a banana republic.

Thank you, MetaFilter, for clearing this up for me.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 2:00 PM on December 8, 2019 [8 favorites]


"It can't be done again the same way, ever."

Sure it can, as long as people keep forgetting history, which of course they will.
This thread has over 50 comments and nobody's mentioned Duchamp, even though it's an obvious reference. He made this point over a century ago, and somebody I'm ignorant of probably made it before him.
Not only did Duchamp famously question the nature of art by exhibiting a urinal, but Brian Eno pissed in it, and I think some other people did too.
Also, Piero Manzoni sold his own shit as art, which even more than Duchamp pretty much ends the conversation.
This stuff is still amusing in a vaguely annoying way, but it's hardly revolutionary.
The "art world" is crammed with people who waste their time pretending to be "transgressive" in an environment that rewards transgression. If you really want to be "transgressive", start taping bananas to walls at your job on an oil rig or at your local Bed Bath and Beyond.
I have no problem with people doing this stuff or with other people paying laughable amounts of money for it. It's just annoying that decade after decade they seem to think they're being innovative.
posted by Joan Rivers of Babylon at 2:35 PM on December 8, 2019 [17 favorites]


@Joan Rivers of Babylon -- totally agree. Yes, it's amusing but it's also extremely frustrating because there is so much excellent art out there by women, minorities, people from oppressive regimes, etc. making incredible pieces about their experiences and the societies in which they live -- but yet again, our focus is on "ha ha, the art world sure is a ludicrous, isn't it?"

And, of course, this leads to discourse from people who are like "Wow art sure is useless and pretentious and contributes nothing to society at all!" I want to like this, because I want to defend my love of contemporary art and the importance of ideas over technical ability, but I'm having a hard time with this one.
posted by thebots at 3:25 PM on December 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, in other art news, the $1 million gold toilet is still missing.
posted by Mchelly at 3:41 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, in other art news, the $1 million gold toilet is still missing.

There's only one man in America tasteless enough to want that and criminal enough to steal it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:50 PM on December 8, 2019 [9 favorites]


Wasn't there a quote from one of the Dadaists about how art is like a banana, best consumed on the spot? It's a really hard thing to google.

You’re thinking about fruit flies, Groucho.*

(* yes, I know, he didn’t .)
posted by Guy Smiley at 4:19 PM on December 8, 2019


Wasn't there a quote from one of the Dadaists about how art is like a banana, best consumed on the spot? It's a really hard thing to google.

I started looking for this and fell down the rabbit hole of the Washington Banana Museum. Interesting, though some of the images are, uh, eeesh, of their time.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:55 PM on December 8, 2019


The art remains even after it's physical instantiation has been consumed.
It's pure gnosticism - existence is what is left after something has been eaten.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 5:07 PM on December 8, 2019 [5 favorites]


To paraphrase the NRA: art doesn't oppress people artists/art dealers/collectors/museum industrial complexes do.

If you cannot see how this feels oppressive than you have no idea what I am talking about but I guess that is the beauty of diversity of experience when confronting the exact same thing.
posted by Pembquist at 8:43 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


All I can say about this is that I had not heard of the artist, the art, or the gallery when it was just a banana. Today I have heard of all of them. A great success for whoever is the mastermind behind the whole skit.
posted by McNulty at 9:19 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


I don't know much about art, and after, this, I'm not even sure I know what I like.
posted by The Tensor at 1:08 AM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


What just happened was that in the eyes of the public, the field of contemporary art was stripped down into a simplistic, highly recognizable bit of clickbait. This was a ridiculous object that caused instant viral controversy and derision within and without the art world, because it called into question the value of art itself. (On a long enough timeline, even the hardiest works of art will be lost, so is the idea of the work itself worth anything..?) Then it was sold for what seemed to everyone to be a ludicrously inflated price, only to be LITERALLY CONSUMED by another artist, completing its narrative arc.

Lmfao. I'm geeking out. By any metric this was/is a successful piece.


Totally. Also fascinating to see where people's support for paying artists ends (at the limits of their own taste, apparently). $120,000 is not a wildly unreasonable price for a work by an artist with Cattelan's profile, and unless you're of the view that no art should ever be valued at six figures unless it cost a great deal (in time and / or materials) to produce, it's hard to see the justification for complaining about the price of this piece other than your personal dislike for it (cf. the wildly overheated valuations at the upper end of the market for Jeff Koons et al., which have a much more pronounced negative effect).

See also the NYT's follow-up piece, A (Grudging) Defence of the $120,000 Banana.
posted by inire at 3:35 AM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


Put another way: if you are a working artist who has been exhibiting for more than 20 years in major galleries and had a retrospective at the Guggenheim, what do you think a reasonable price for your work would be?
posted by inire at 3:38 AM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm waiting for an art installation that nothing but a framed certificate of authenticity.
posted by hypnogogue at 6:42 AM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


This thread has over 50 comments and nobody's mentioned Duchamp, even though it's an obvious reference. He made this point over a century ago, and somebody I'm ignorant of probably made it before him.

A few years back at the Whitney Biennial there was an artist who submitted three "untitled" works - all of which were exact copies of Duchamp works, which she had created by following his exact notes. And she was submitting them as her own original work, but still made no bones about the fact that she had copied Duchamp exactly in every regard.

I have the feeling that Duchamp, if he'd seen it, would smile and say "okay, she gets it."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:32 AM on December 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


Banana of theseus is an okay art idea, but a performance art eating the banana elevates it in a way it couldn't do by itself.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:37 AM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


"Art is what you can get away with" - Andy Warhol (but probably stolen from Marshall McLuhan)
posted by octothorpe at 8:38 AM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


I also like provocative art and roll my eyes at scoffers and philistines. In my opinion, the person who paid $120K for this was not dumb at all, they were an active participant in the story which is this piece. Their purchase in a way completed the work.

Like escape from the potato planet, my baseline is frustration at people's general unwillingness to think about a piece of art and its function just because it's not implemented via one of the traditional technical disciplines marked as Artistic craft, but defenses like these for pieces like this kind of boggle me. Sure, there's a story, but it's boring and hollow. I think, ironically, that slavishly promoting "ideas" over craft brings us to this point where the ideas in question become largely fungible, and their only function becomes self-propagation: we're talking about it, aren't we, etc. It seems so depressing to me to be willing to rest the case for success on such a petty, nihilistic goal.

At this point, I take an artist's preoccupation with art about art as a tacit admission that they are severely lacking in imagination or feeling.
posted by invitapriore at 11:46 AM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


At this point, I take an artist's preoccupation with art about art as a tacit admission that they are severely lacking in imagination or feeling.

It’s relatively easy for referential works focusing on their own in-group to spiral into airless academicism or back-patting/-stabbing that’s of interest to no-one outside the group, but I think this avoids the trap, for the reasons set out in the NYT article above (excerpted below in case anyone has trouble with the paywall):

““Comedian” is a sculpture, one that continues Mr. Cattelan’s decades-long reliance on suspension to make the obvious seem ridiculous and to deflate and defeat the pretensions of earlier art. [...] Perhaps the most important antecedent for the banana sculpture is his notorious “A Perfect Day” (1999), for which Mr. Cattelan used duct tape to fasten his dealer Massimo De Carlo to a white wall, who stayed taped above the ground for the show’s opening day. The banana should be seen in the context of this earlier work, which places the art market itself on the wall, drooping and pitiful.

But perhaps you have read all this and thought: this Times critic is as bad as the poseurs at the fair! In which case you have already anticipated my second point: Mr. Cattelan directs these barbs at art from inside the art world, rather than lobbing insults from some cynical distance. His entire career has been a testament to an impossible desire to create art sincerely, stunted here by money, there by his own doubts.

In this way Mr. Cattelan is wholly unlike Banksy, the ultra-bankable street artist whose default stance is populist mockery [...] Banksy’s juvenile, notably British stance satisfies a dismayingly common belief that all artists are con artists, and that museums, collectors and critics are either dupes or hustlers [...]

Actually, real artists are not out to hoodwink you. What makes Mr. Cattelan a compelling artist, and what makes Banksy a tedious and culturally irrelevant prankster, is precisely Mr. Cattelan’s willingness to implicate himself within the economic, social and discursive systems that structure how we see and what we value. It makes sense that an artist would find those systems dispiriting, and the duct-taped banana, like the suspended horse, might testify to his and all of our confinement within commerce and history. In that sense, the title “Comedian” is ironic — for Mr. Cattelan, like all the best clowns, is a tragedian who makes our certainties as slippery as a banana peel.”


I think populist mockery has its place, but the above makes a decent case for Cattelan being more than you suggest. I suppose you could argue his work parasitises its force from the very things it’s supposed to target, but what satire doesn’t?
posted by inire at 1:37 PM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


I agree completely with Joan Rivers of Babylon. Stunt art like this is still art, but it's derivative, unoriginal and uninspired and hasn't had anything interesting to say in years. We get it. The world of high art is a joke they're all making up as they go along, and primarily a method for the wealthy to get tax breaks, commit insurance fraud, bla bla bla. They get off on devaluing actual talent, skill and objective worth in favor of concepts and name recognition because why should they stop? It keeps making money.

Once in the position of being able to trot out concepts like these, none of these cowardly artists will ever risk actually losing status (or money) on a piece. Until then, none of this moves the conversation forward, it's just mad libs dadaism. ("I sold a (worthless object), for (incredible sum)! Art is (nonsense, a commodity, over)!"

Here's some notions some guy on the internet cooked up that might make it slightly more meaningful. (Eating the banana is at least a little more interesting than just the sale price, but Banksy already did "destroying the work" not that long ago, and that's probably been done before too):

Take all the proceeds from the sale, turn that into cash, place it on a pallet, and put that into a gallery, and then sell it. Repeat forever.

Sell the banana. Overnight, tape 1,000 more bananas to the gallery wall. Ask the purchaser to pick out "their" banana.

Use all the proceeds to fund actual arts education.

Have Datuna shit the banana into a can, sell it, and then have Cattelan open and eat that.

Sell the banana. Have armed guards protect the banana from interlopers for the rest of the show. Invite the purchaser to eat their banana when the show concludes. The banana is poisoned.
posted by subocoyne at 2:21 PM on December 9, 2019 [5 favorites]


Put more simply, works like this are toothless because they mock the art market from a position of power and influence within it, but they will never actually destroy or harm the thing that makes them possible: the artist's cachet or the practice of art as commodity.

These men can always just make another one. It risks nothing.

I would be interested to hear of any works that actually try that approach. I want to see a piece that ends an artist's career, or significantly harms the high-end art market itself.
posted by subocoyne at 2:38 PM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


Put more simply, works like this are toothless because they mock the art market from a position of power and influence within it, but they will never actually destroy or harm the thing that makes them possible: the artist's cachet or the practice of art as commodity.

This seems like an odd thing to demand of mockery - it is always and only made possible by the existence of the thing being mocked (obviously), and is very rarely in a position to destroy or harm that thing. You’re effectively arguing that mockery is only worthwhile when it comes from the powerful, and / or that it’s pointless to mock things that are difficult or impossible to harm or destroy. Neither conclusion seems true or desirable.

I want to see a piece that ends an artist's career, or significantly harms the high-end art market itself.

It feels like Neil Hamburger is shooting for the former, via attrition. And one could argue that the cabal of pranksters behind the rediscovery, restoration and subsequent disappearance of Salvator Mundi are having a good crack at the latter (at Abu Dhabi’s expense).
posted by inire at 3:54 PM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


"Mock" was probably the wrong choice of words. I should say "celebrate".

I have an impression that this piece is being perceived as a mockery of the art market, but it is powerful men demonstrating that they can do ridiculous things and profit from them. "Look what I can get away with" is not a novel concept. It's fine as an example of the genre and clearly inspires discussion, but it's just more of the same and generally devalues contemporary art in the public's eye as thebots said above.

What I am saying is that a piece from one of these established stunt artists that risked their livelihood or materially harming the market would be more artistically valid and elevate the genre to something new, imho. I'm not sure what form that would take, or if harming the market is even possible, but I'm not a world-renowned conceptual artist, and I don't believe that anyone who is in that position is willing to take on that sort of artistic/monetary risk.

Instead probably the next one of these will be someone selling a certificate of authenticity authenticating itself as a piece and the discourse will spin up the same stuff again.

I'm not familiar with the Salvator Mundi debacle. Is there a link that describes what's happening with that?
posted by subocoyne at 4:47 PM on December 9, 2019


I have an impression that this piece is being perceived as a mockery of the art market, but it is powerful men demonstrating that they can do ridiculous things and profit from them. "Look what I can get away with" is not a novel concept. It's fine as an example of the genre and clearly inspires discussion, but it's just more of the same and generally devalues contemporary art in the public's eye as thebots said above.

I agree that those types of one-note stunt pieces are, in the main, crap art - I just think there's more depth to this piece beyond 'lol I can tape a banana to the wall and some wanker will pay six figures for it, makes you think!!!'.

(Also, as an aside, I appreciate that it's important for the public to esteem and connect with art in a general sense, but I really could not care less about the reaction of 'the public' to a particular piece or style of art unless their reaction is part of the artist's goal. If people are foolish enough to base their views about the use or value of contemporary art in general (or a particular style or method) on their reaction to a specific piece, why be guided by their opinions?)

I'm not familiar with the Salvator Mundi debacle. Is there a link that describes what's happening with that?

Salvator Mundi was originally thought to be painted by a follower of Leonardo da Vinci. Subsequently, it was decided to be a long-lost original by da Vinci himself, restored (somewhat ham-fistedly), hyped to a spectacular degree, and ultimately sold to a close associate of noted art and dismemberment enthusiast Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for $450 million, ostensibly to form the centerpiece of a new branch of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.

There has been and continues to be significant disagreement among experts about whether the painting is in fact a genuine work by da Vinci (as opposed to a work by one of his followers with a few details by da Vinci, or a purely derivative work by a later imitator), which likely has something to do with the fact that the painting has not been exhibited at the Louvre Abu Dhabi (or anywhere else) since its sale. Its whereabouts are currently unknown, although it is suspected to be gracing the walls of bin Salman's yacht.

Given the enormous amount of money and publicity involved, and the fact that "questions of authenticity, provenance and attribution constitute the greatest risks to the art market according to 83% of wealth managers and 81% of art professionals", I like to imagine that an eventual un-attribution of the painting will be a catalyst for the implosion of the ultra-high-end art market. But then I'm an optimist.
posted by inire at 4:50 AM on December 10, 2019 [3 favorites]


I like to imagine that an eventual un-attribution of [Salvator Mundi] will be a catalyst for the implosion of the ultra-high-end art market.

If you spend $450M on a painting, it doesn't mean you've done a precise cost/benefit analysis to determine a precise price point at which the value of the painting (via ancillary income, merchandising, etc.) meets the expense of buying it, and it was $451M, and you got a bargain. Spending $450M on a painting means that A) you have so much money that you won't actually miss $450M, and B) you're willing to spend hundreds of millions on a "famous painting". And then, if Salvator Mundi is proven to be not a "true" da Vinci, that will only make it "the most famous painting by a student of da Vinci" or "the most famous would-be da Vinci" or some such nonsense, which will be held up as proof that it is notable in and of itself, and therefore "worth" hundreds of millions.

And the difference between $275M and $450M is meaningless to anyone who has that level of money.
posted by Etrigan at 6:47 AM on December 10, 2019


If it's proven not to be a true da Vinci, it won't be worthless, but there is zero chance that it will be worth anything like hundreds of millions - hence the strenuous efforts to shore up the current contested attribution (or at least maintain a degree of ambiguity).

And while your points A and B are true, there is also a point C. If you have very publicly spent nearly half a billion dollars on acquiring the most expensive artwork ever sold, ostensibly in order to form the centerpiece of a new cultural hub in collaboration with arguably the most prestigious museum in the world, as part of an effort to improve / rehabilitate the public image of you and your nation... and then it turns out that the artwork is worth a fraction of what you paid... you look like a fool, and a mark, and someone with more money than sense. You'll have achieved precisely the opposite of what you set out to achieve. Small consolation that you proved how rich you are - in MBS's case, everyone knows that already.

The same point applies to other buyers at the top end of the market - if they blow tens or hundreds of millions on artworks that turn out to have been wrongly attributed, they'll feel like dupes, and (if public) they'll lose face, which at that level of wealth is more important than the odd non-performing investment. Hence why questions of authenticity, provenance and attribution are an increasing issue - no-one wants to be made to look like a fool, and if people think that's a risk, they'll price it in when bidding.
posted by inire at 7:16 AM on December 10, 2019


the cabal of pranksters behind the rediscovery, restoration and subsequent disappearance of Salvator Mundi were looking to make a buck. Yes, that's exactly right. When in doubt, the culprit is making money. Wasn't there a theory floated that a slice of the VanGoghs out there are fake, and Modigliani's had a similar problem, and Basquiat as well (really? yeah, really.) and I think Rothko as well. One of the things I grudgingly respected about Warhol is that his art always embraced mechanical reproducibility, thus kind of undercutting that whole dynamic of rarity (though it has found its way into the market for his works anyway.)

No, at the bottom of it all is money. There is a terrific part of The Goldfinch that explains this, that an object of extreme value can ultimately become a placeholder of value, a sort of coin, susceptible to being split up like a piece of eight.

Catellan has enough experience of the art world to know the ins and outs of the transaction: the real winners of the banana flap are the original three buyers. They would not be held remiss if they sold now, while the piece is notorious.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:15 AM on December 10, 2019


If people are foolish enough to base their views about the use or value of contemporary art in general (or a particular style or method) on their reaction to a specific piece, why be guided by their opinions?

Unfortunately, their opinions don't exist in a vacuum and have a tangible effect on the world outside of their opinion on this specific piece of art.

People's opinions about the relevance of art has direct correlation to arts funding in schools and arts funding in general. There's a reason why the NEA is a political football and it's directly because of people's opinions about pieces like this in the high art world. A few years ago, the state of Florida cut it's arts funding budget by 80% -- really hurting small, non-profit arts organizations across the state, but especially in rural Florida. We're talking about programs that work in prisons, schools, with migrants, etc. And now it's going to be a lot harder for those of us working to get that funding back because of this particular high end art piece. Because that's going to be in people's minds as the budget discussion comes up again. It's how the NEA got trashed during the "culture wars." It sucks, but people's opinions about art like this ripples out in unexpected ways to the arts community outside of the high art world.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 8:48 AM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


I mean if it helps, one way to think about some of the more notorious modern art pieces, like Cattalan's, use money as their artistic medium of expression with the buyers as willing participants in the work. It's not unlike the stage magician who calls up an audience member, asks them for their watch and then appears to smash it, only in these works the buyer doesn't actually get the watch back unsmashed, but the "prestige" of owning the rights to the work of destruction.

It isn't even about transgression within the artworld exactly as in the upper tiers of the art world what money buys is understood as part of the expressive act necessary to gain the attention of a world that scarcely bothers to notice modern art unless there is a big price tag attached, and the more apparently ridiculous the better. Works like this necessitate artists of a certain accepted level of cache to be able to accomplish them, which is also part of the point of the exercise, something that is often implicit in other areas of life, but explicit within this part of the artworld. The "work" is essentially ephemeral in effect, not unlike so much other art where one pays for a performance that cannot be "kept" in any meaningful sense other than as a record of something of some significance that once occurred and might be remembered through a secondary medium that can't capture the whole.

Cattalan's work here uses the buyer's money, and of course the banana, duct tape, the gallery and other artist, but the expression is in the response to the work from the general public, the artworld and those directly involved, and what can be taken away from the totality of all of it.

And on preview: Please. Cuts to the NEA and arts funding are done because there are always assholes who want to cut anything that doesn't funnel back their own pockets or that of their buddies, using some few high profile modern art pieces as an excuse for that is so obviously bullshit that entertaining that as true shouldn't be a consideration. If works like this didn't exist they'd find a different excuse to use to make the same cuts. It's not like people are actually confused about whether local school choirs are going to be hanging bananas or, you know, singing, they just don't want to pay for something that doesn't benefit themselves directly.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:04 AM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


The Salvator Mundi thing could be its own post. Were I the curator (and it was actually available to display), I would probably display the piece next to a Kinkade to inspire musings about authenticity and how much of a piece an artist needs to make themselves to be considered genuine. That's one of many reasons I'm not a curator, I'm sure.

I think my reaction to this particular piece is a disappointment with Catellan, whose previous piece "America" I really liked because it was providing to regular museum-goers the experience of a ridiculously ostentatious display of wealth. The gold toilet itself wasn't the piece to me so much as the audience being able to actually use it.

This one is frustrating because it comes close to being something great but doesn't quite get there. It's like a withheld sneeze, and also it's been done before, both the "sale price as medium" and the destruction of the piece. There's something about the sale being part of the piece which clearly rubs me the wrong way. It's like it quantifies the artistic value of something. Would it be more meaningful it it had sold for more? I don't know, and don't care to find out, but it'll happen again and again, and each time it'll be an outrage as the general public is reminded yet again that the wealthy choose to use their wealth on these things. At least if they buy a mega-yacht a lot of workers got paid to make it.
posted by subocoyne at 1:27 PM on December 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


It's like a withheld sneeze, and also it's been done before, both the "sale price as medium" and the destruction of the piece.

The fact that this assertion that it's been done before can be plausibly made points to how little the nature of the physical object in question matters to the piece overall, which even if we incorporate as a statement made by the work remains a boring statement. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, because while I certainly don't demand a priori that the art object have any particular form physical or conceptual, I see such underdetermination of an aspect of the total work as either an offputtingly redundant statement if intended and a failure of craft if not.
posted by invitapriore at 5:14 PM on December 10, 2019


I see such underdetermination of an aspect of the total work

How undetermined? It must be a fruit, for fruits perish, and even uneaten this somewhat expensive work would shortly disintegrate by slower corruption, save the buyer placing it in a deep freeze, which would also be interesting. (It could be a vegetable but that's lame, and it would be rude to tape a chunk of meat on the nice clean gallery walls.)

If it must be a fruit, consider the four main fruits: the apple, the orange, the banana, and the grape. You don't want some kind of rare fruit, that would be pretentious and undermine the point, stick to one of the main ones. Of these choices, clearly the banana is both the most visually appealing and most easily attached to the wall. Also note the aging banana would have very visibly gone from yellow to brown before the real putrefaction set in.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 8:14 PM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's like a withheld sneeze, and also it's been done before, both the "sale price as medium" and the destruction of the piece. There's something about the sale being part of the piece which clearly rubs me the wrong way. It's like it quantifies the artistic value of something.

heh. I can't entirely disagree with the "withheld sneeze" assessment, since it isn't a piece that really goes a long way with me, but for me, that's more because it's just too on the nose to really provide much tension. The choice of a banana is that it is not only consumable, but meant to be consumed or it will rot. That it's a 120,000$ banana that fed another artist points to the art market itself and how it continually "nourishes" itself from works that only the select few can create, display, buy, and consume, the cycle of which keeps the art market going.

Each part of the piece is necessary to the whole, so it isn't a problem there, neither is the "genre" of it being "about" art and money and those of us who are on the outside watching the "monkey business", which is what the price also speaks to as that is all that gains attention and makes the work "important", which all goes back to the point of the piece. The work encompasses the objections to it by already having them taken into account, but it does so without much added sense of strangeness to it that might keep it in mind longer. It's all a bit too straight forward for me to be too enthused about it.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:42 AM on December 11, 2019


Every artist has to make sacrifices.

"Do you eat a lot of bananas?

About once a year. I do not really like them."
posted by inire at 7:57 AM on December 11, 2019


The discussion of the value and cost of the work is reminding me of the shift from the noblesse d'epee to the noblesse de robe - and the occasional sniffing by old aristocracy about bourgeois who care about the money in a piece of art but not the worth. It was more important to spend and display without care for cost, to make grand, bold gestures, not to meanly pinch pennies.

(As you might expect, the noblesse de robe took over many bankrupt estates from the older, grander nobility.)
posted by clawsoon at 8:08 AM on December 11, 2019 [1 favorite]


It was more important to spend and display without care for cost, to make grand, bold gestures, not to meanly pinch pennies.

Didn't stop the nobility from making strenuous efforts to avoid taxes, though. The more things change, etc.
posted by inire at 8:56 AM on December 11, 2019 [1 favorite]


inire: Didn't stop the nobility from making strenuous efforts to avoid taxes, though. The more things change, etc.

Yeah, I get the impression that the nobility figured they should be receiving the taxes, not paying them. The more things change indeed...
posted by clawsoon at 9:50 AM on December 11, 2019


Miami's janitors are walking the streets in protest with bananas tapped to their shirts.

From this Miami New Times Article:

In Miami, where janitorial wages are among the lowest in the nation, the weekend news of a duct-taped banana selling for $120,000 at Art Basel didn't go over well. In fact, to janitor Felipa Cardenas, it was almost obscene.

"How much are we worth? A banana is worth more than us, apparently," says Cardenas, who earns $8.46 an hour cleaning a luxury office building in downtown Miami. "Our work is something people don't value; they look at us like we're nothing. But it's a job with dignity, and it's tough work. We deserve better payment."
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 7:13 AM on December 12, 2019 [5 favorites]


I think populist mockery has its place, but the above makes a decent case for Cattelan being more than you suggest. I suppose you could argue his work parasitises its force from the very things it’s supposed to target, but what satire doesn’t?

I don't really accept the implicit proposition that his work is important or interesting. I'd argue the resultant essays and hot takes are more interesting than the work itself.

Some People Think Cattelan’s Banana Is Genius. This Law Professor Thinks It’s Illegal
Just when you thought you would never have to swallow another banana, here comes a law professor with a jocular legal argument against Comedian, the artwork that Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan came out of retirement to offer for sale at Art Basel Miami Beach earlier this month.

In a brand-new paper, University of Kentucky Law professor Brian Frye argues not that those three buyers paid too much to Cattelan and his gallery, Perrotin, for a piece of fruit and some duct tape. And he’s not arguing that it isn’t art in the first place. Rather, he’s arguing that it is a financial instrument that defies rules set down by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The $120,000 banana, argues Frye, is a security that Cattelan and his gallery, Perrotin, should never have been allowed to sell in the first place.

...

“I was so drunk when I wrote this paper,” said Frye. “It was one o’clock in the morning and I was three sheets to the wind.”
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:41 AM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


Salvator Mundi was originally thought to be painted by a follower of Leonardo da Vinci. Subsequently, it was decided to be a long-lost original by da Vinci himself, restored (somewhat ham-fistedly), hyped to a spectacular degree, and ultimately sold to a close associate of noted art and dismemberment enthusiast Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for $450 million, ostensibly to form the centerpiece of a new branch of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.

Perhaps someone should duct tape a bone saw to a wall.
posted by hypnogogue at 12:33 PM on December 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


I don't really accept the implicit proposition that his work is important or interesting.

No such implication intended - I'm arguing for a spectrum of important / interesting, not a binary. I don't think this piece is especially important (or at least it wasn't prior to all the publicity), nor do I find it enormously interesting, but it has more substance to it than the various 'lol how is this art' / 'how is this worth 120k' reactions seem to grasp. You don't have to find that substance aesthetically or conceptually compelling to recognise that it exists.
posted by inire at 10:40 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


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