In 2019, an art fair called Art Basel was held at Miami Beach.
The artist Maurizio Cattelan exhibited a work called “Comedian”.
It was a banana taped to the wall with a piece of duct-tape, the price was $120,000.
It sold immediately, and was replaced by another banana which also sold for $120,000.
This was replaced by another banana, which this time sold for $150,000.
All each purchaser got was the banana, a piece of duct tape, and instructions.
The instructions said when the banana went bad, replace it with a fresh banana.
$120,000 was the price set by the artist and his rep, Emmanuel Perrotin, for the idea.
They wanted a price that would make it clear the work was not “trivial or insignificant” but not so expensive as to be “outlandish or ridiculous”.
While the work was being exhibited, a performance artist called David Datuna took the banana off the wall and ate it.
He said this was performance art, and his work was entitled “Hungry Artist”.
He said Cattelan had made a brilliant statement with the banana, and his answer took Cattelan’s work to another level.
Where the banana had been taped was now an empty white wall.
Another performance artist called Rod Webber wrote in lipstick on the wall: “Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself”.
He was arrested for criminal damage, but his defence was that if Datuna’s piece was valid as a comment on Cattelan’s work, then his piece was valid as a comment on Datuna’s work.
Meanwhile, the gallery owners had to install velvet ropes to keep the crowds back.
Two other artists claimed they had banana-based artworks in the same show: Allie Ellis with “Banana Grandma” and Alexi Torre with “Banana Cathedral”.
Other artists claimed prior ownership of the idea: Evgeny Ches with a mural of a banana painted in 2015, Carine Weve with a banana attached to a canvas by cable-ties in 2006, and MethFountain with a croissant duct-taped to a wall at the 2019 FIAC art fair in Paris.
Adrian Wilson took a picture of two women looking at the banana artwork, he put the photo on the wall of an art gallery, then took a photo of that and exhibited it.
Critics considered this: “appropriation art, in the style of Richard Prince”.
But Emmanuel Perrotin’s view was that none of these counted: “If you don’t sell the piece, it’s not a work of art.”
It took Maurizio Cattelan years to decide to duct-tape a real banana to the wall.
Previously, he had experimented with a resin banana, and a bronze banana, but nothing worked until he came to the realisation: “The banana is supposed to be a banana.”
Now all this may all seem a bit strange to us.
We may feel we don’t really understand the art world at all.
But that’s okay because they’re really not talking to us.
Art lives inside its own little bubble: artists and gallery owners talking to other artists and critics.
But we don’t live in the art world.
We live in the world of advertising, and we aren’t supposed to be talking to each other.
The entire purpose of everything we do is to talk to ordinary people.
Not to talk to other planners, and marketers, and creatives, and the jury at Cannes.
We don’t live in a little cultural meta* world, we live in the real world of real people.
Talking to real people is the raison d’etre* for what we do.
And yet what we do currently seems to have as much relevance to real people as a banana duct-taped to a wall.
And, just like Cannes awards entries, it needs an explanatory video to explain and justify its existence.
NB (dictionary definitions):
- Solipsism: the theory that only the self is real and the self cannot be aware of anything else except itself. An example of solipsism is the idea that nothing matters except yourself.
- Meta: showing or suggesting an explicit awareness of itself or oneself as a member of its category: cleverly self-referential.
- Raison d’etre: the most important reason or purpose for someone or something’s existence.