Before we get to the banana, we should consider where it was eaten. Art Basel in Miami Beach is a franchise of a famous Swiss art fair that takes place far from the Alps, in sunny Florida – presumably because it’s too cold to sell art in Basel at this time of year. This surreal displacement adds to the sense that contemporary art, like haute couture, is a luxury for people with more money than sense, who can afford to follow their favourite art dealers around the planet like migrating birds.
“contemporary art, like haute couture, is a luxury for people with more money than sense.”
Enter Comedian. That is the title of the artwork by Maurizio Cattelan, renowned for his stolen gold toilet, that has taken this sophisticated trade fair out of in-crowdy art websites and into mainstream news. Cattelan’s Comedian is a banana taped to a wall. Descriptions tend to carefully specify that it is fixed there with grey duct tape. Everyone stresses this somewhat bare technical fact, as if to find physical evidence that it really is, after all, art.
At the weekend, after Comedian had already sold for $120,000, an artist named David Datuna joined the queue of fair-goers eager to take selfies with Comedian, but instead peeled back the grey duct tape, removed the banana from the wall and ate it. The piece was remade but then removed from the show, presumably to prevent further stunts. No such luck – a graffitist with few artistic pretensions wrote “Epstien (sic) didn’t kill himself” in the blank space it left.