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Art goes bananas


WHEN we dump a Christian worldview with its standards of truth and beauty for today’s wacky world of post-modern progressivism with its relativist concepts of truth and value, we are forced to ask profound questions, such as:

Is eating a banana

a)      Art

b)      The destruction of a work of art

c)      An exercise in self-publicity

In today’s art world, which has become a spearhead of the progressive movement, the answer of course is d) All of the above.

Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan produced a work for the Art Basel Miami Beach art fair. Over the years Cattelan has achieved immense popularity for his satirical creations, which have included an effigy of Pope John Paul II being crushed by a meteor and a replica of the famous Hollywood sign erected over a waste dump in Palermo, Sicily.

In Britain we know Cattelan as the artist who created an 18-carat gold lavatory titled America which disappeared from Winston Churchill’s birthplace, Blenheim Palace, where it was on display. Several people have since been arrested in the caper, which Cattelan called ‘a little bit surreal’. 

His latest masterpiece, his first production for an art fair for 15 years, consisted of a single overripe banana, its peel speckled with brown, duct-taped to the wall. The piece was a sensation and was quickly sold. Three buyers paid between $120,000 and $150,000 each for limited-edition pieces featuring the single duct-taped banana. The work was appropriately titled Comedian.

Jason Farago, an art critic with the New York Times, considers ‘the duct-taped banana . . . 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’. 

Then along came David Datuna. The Georgian-born New York-based performance artist developed the installation by putting his own, apparently unauthorised, spin on it. In full view of a throng of Art Basel high-roller art collectors, Datuna approached the work, removed the banana from the wall and nonchalantly devoured the work of art, leaving only the peel.

The whole thing was captured on video. Some onlookers laughed outright. Others sounded taken aback.

‘It’s art performance,’ Datuna said, as he consumed the fruit. ‘We respect Maurizio, but it’s art performance. “Hungry Artist”.’

A gallery official, aghast at the artistic violation, hurried up and confronted him. ‘Are you kidding? Did you really do that?’ she asked.

‘Yes,’ Datuna responded. ‘But it’s performance.’

The gallery official promptly assured him: ‘It’s not performance,’ and called security.

‘See you after jail, guys,’ Datuna said as guards steered him through the crowd. He was escorted to a private room where police officers took down all his information. But when the commotion settled, Datuna, probably to his disappointment, wasn’t arrested although he may face charges at a later date.

The art work was immediately recreated, the eaten banana being replaced with a fresher one. Perhaps it had been waiting in the wings eager for its chance of stardom; even bananas can have understudies in the art world. The gallery appeared to take the whole episode in its stride. No publicity is bad publicity.

Is the new banana with new duct tape a completely new work of art created in response to the artistic vandalism perpetrated by Datuna? Even before Datuna, it was clear that the banana would require replacing once in a while, and Cattelan had already drawn up instructions for the lucky collectors to replace the fruit every week to ten days. ‘Everybody changes flowers regularly,’ his dealer Emmanuel Perrotin observed.

Of course, the original banana has been making its way through Datuna’s digestive tract and into Miami Beach’s sewerage system. But the work comes with a certificate of authenticity, and that’s what collectors are paying for. Rest assured, nothing will devalue a work of modern art. Lucien Terras, director of museum relations for Galerie Perrotin, said Datuna’s act did not devalue the work or detract from its overall integrity.

‘He did not destroy the art work. The banana is the idea,’ Terras told the Miami Herald. ‘This has brought a lot of tension and attention to the booth, and we’re not into spectacles. But the response has been great. It brings a smile to a lot of people’s faces.’ 

Lucien Terras is of course quite right. In today’s world, ‘The banana is the idea’. Or to be more accurate, in today’s world their ideas are bananas.

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Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Campbell is a retired Presbyterian minister who lives in Stirlingshire. He blogs at A Grain of Sand.

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