During the 2019 edition of Art Basel Miami Beach, an incident occurred that took the internet by storm. This is not uncommon for art shows like Art Basel, where performance art and avant garde installations often go viral. But something about this event, involving a banana and some duct tape, captured not only the attendees’ attention, but also the world’s.
Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan came out of his semi-retirement for this work, titled “The Comedian.” Comprised of a single banana bought at a Miami supermarket and a piece of duct tape suspending the fruit to the wall of the gallery booth at the show, “The Comedian” almost seems like a joke, a mockery of what the contemporary art world has become. The work and its editions and artist proofs sold for $120,000 to $150,000 and this is partly why people beyond the realm of Art Basel and even the larger art scene were fascinated by this story. How could someone spend $120,000 on a banana?
Though the whole incident seems ridiculous and out of touch, when one looks back on Mr. Cattelan’s career, the banana actually doesn't seem so out of place. To start, the piece is not just the banana. It’s the banana and the duct tape, together. Mr. Cattelan has used duct tape in his sculptures and work before to suspend different objects in the air or on the wall, most famously in his 1999 work “A Perfect Day,” in which he duct taped his art dealer Massimo de Carlo to the wall of the gallery for the duration of the opening day of the show. The banana and duct tape seem absurd at face value, but in the larger context of Mr. Cattelan’s career and harkening back to artists like Marcel Duchamp, who challenged our ideas about what objects can be ‘art’, this work makes a lot more sense.
Regardless of how you feel about it, “The Comedian” was a huge hit at the show and drew unprecedented crowds of on-lookers. Everyone had to see the infamous banana on the wall (and take pictures for their social media), and the gallery booth could barely handle the rush of visitors. The work ended being taken down early, but the banana’s effect had already spread like wildfire. Art rarely ends up on the front page of newspapers these days, but Mr. Cattelan’s work had hundreds of articles and think-pieces written about it after just one day. “The Comedian” clearly struck a chord with people everywhere.
Over at Art Miami, another art show taking place at the same time as Art Basel, copycat bananas popped up everywhere the day after Mr. Cattelan taped his own fruit up. A few people could be spotted with bananas taped to their shirts, while other galleries taped up their own versions of “The Comedian” on their walls. The incredibly accessible nature of the work led to just about anyone being able to recreate it on their own. Whether people are making fun of the work or actually enjoying the meaning behind it, “The Comedian” has reached millions of people and garnered a reaction from all who see it, and sometimes that’s all we can ask of art.