“Comedian”, by Maurizio Cattelan, 2019, banana and duct tape on wall.

“Maurizio is a pure genius… I see the magic happen on various occasions.”~ Emmanuel Perrotin, of Galerie Perrotin.

The same artist who gave us the golden toilet has now affixed a banana to the wall, in an edition of three, at Art Basel Miami Beach. It used to be that you were considered stupid if you didn’t get this kind of art — perhaps a century ago — but there’s a statute of limitations on how long you can fall for the same joke before you are stupid for thinking it’s still funny. Apparently the wealthy art audience is as gullible as Charlie Brown.

There is only one reason this is at all distinguishable from an undergraduate art assignment by someone who learned about Duchamp’s “Fountain” a day earlier [you can just stick any old thing in a gallery, and art is whatever you say it is] and a work of art valued at more than 100K — celebrity. If I had taped the same banana with the same tape in a gallery the week before, it would have meant nothing. And I distinctly remember someone taping bags of goldfish on the wall in one of my undergrad art classes a quarter century ago. Same underlying idea. This is the stale old art of the prank as conceptual art, and in order to appreciate it we need to believe in the awe-inspiring genius of the gesture of doing it.

The work is “very Duchamp,” said critic Linda Yablonsky, referring to Marcel Duchamp, the French artist whose famous 1917 sculpture, “The Fountain,” transformed a urinal into a work of art. ~ Katya Kazakina, for Bloomberg.

Even the people who buy into it connect some of the same dots that I do, but don’t make the connection that it’s redundant.

This is the kind of conceptual art I think is bullshit. The counter, of course, is that I am too dim, out of touch, and backwards to understand it, which in turn makes it all the more brilliant and precious. Except that it is nauseatingly derivative pap even if one likes this sort of thing. The least we can ask of radical conceptual art is that it not be the same old shit. I mean, if you were the first person to do it, and your name was Duchamp, OK, it was a clever prank, and conceptual art (though not visual art proper).

When Martin Creed displayed a piece of kneaded Blu Tack on the wall, it was not new, radical, experimental, or clever. It was just, well …  my reaction was … DOY!

Work No. 79 (Some Blu-Tack kneaded, rolled into a ball, and depressed against a wall), by Martin Creed, 1993.

And yet, 16 years later, here we go, here we go again. Can we agree that when someone drapes cold spaghetti over the entrance handle of the museum door in 2034 it will not be a radical new breakthrough in the way we think about art? No? OK.

Maurizio Cattelan

This kind of work is always seen as a kind of next rung of clever one-upmanship, and upping the game of implied self-reflectivity. Part of the meaning is to be found in not outsmarting the backwards art audience, or making fools of the gullible rich aficionados, but rather making fun of the gullible rich aficionados with a wink. The wink is the real art. It’s saying the buyers are chumps, but the saying they are chumps is the art, in which case he’s not really saying they are chumps. Appearances are deceiving, and only the real aficionados can glimpse the emperor’s new codpiece. Am I the only one dumb enough to see the emperor’s dong?

I made that.

Why, the fact that it looks like pretentious fuckwittery is the crystalline genius. It’s a comment on pretentious fuckwittery, and, uh, materialism, authority, capitalism, commodities, controversy, spectacle, popular culture, and so on, while only appearing to be the very thing it is critiquing! Astounding! Got it, and I get the next level after that, which is that selling the rich art aficionados the art of saying they are being chumped, without really meaning it, is itself the art, which is indeed chumping the living crap out of them (intentional or not).

Just consider how many people have spent a million dollars on a formulaic, assistant-produced dot painting by Damien Hirst. If I said that selling snake oil is art, anyone who is up-to-date in their art education would probably at least partially agree. We believe Andy Warhol when he said that making money is the best art [note: ask yourself if making money is the best music]. We believe that great artists steal [from lesser artists]. And how about ironically selling snake oil, or pretending to ironically sell snake oil? That’s also going to be art, and it’s going to look like a banana taped to a wall. Now consider that this same artist was paid $10,000 to not exhibit art for a year, which was, of course, the art. When not showing art is art, it would be an exaggeration to say that one is on thin ice. How gullible would you have to be to consider not writing a novel to be a significant work of literature? Since before I was born conceptual artists have tested the boundaries of the most ridiculous possible art, from selling empty space [Yves Klein] to releasing invisible gas in the air as sculpture [Robert Barry]. The idea is the art, and the more outlandish it is the more astounding the achievement if one can get away with palming it off.  The banana comes out of this same hackneyed tradition. It’s supposed to be witty — a joke if you will — and if you bought it, the joke’s on you.

Whatever the interpretation of the art, and however many layers of irony, its meaning is far too tenuous to gel into anything, in which case it is a hollow gesture, and any aesthetic consideration is similarly too minimal to register. The line between nearly incomprehensible subtlety and meaningless drivel has been traversed. What we have is an artifact by a celebrity artist, about on par with the sideburn clippings of Elvis.

“Cattelan likes to anger people who think modern art is rubbish and he loves to fool around with the cultural establishment that both rejects and fawns over him. I like his audacious stupidity, personally. He’s like a less repetitive Damien Hirst but with fewer dead butterflies. Modern art needs more pranksters who are actually funny. That’s why I find his latest piece so hilarious.”~ Kayleigh Donaldson, for Pajiba.

This isn’t “modern art”, it’s “contemporary art”, and just because in the past the philistines got angry over novel art (ex., the Impressionists) doesn’t mean that any art people get annoyed or disgusted with is short-circuiting their antiquated mental wiring. Sometimes the people salivating over the same stale art-world prank are the ones who desperately need to update their operating systems.

And is it just too uncouth of me to mention that this is some serious, elitist twaddle, and what $120,000-$150,000 would mean to your average, hard-working, less fortunate person or artist? Part of the content of the art is that the money squandered isn’t significant — for the billionaire class it’s just coins desultorily tossed into a tip jar for a barista — in which case any gravity the lower classes might attribute to the sum corresponds to the thickness of their skulls. Scoffing at people who object to the artwork allows one to feel like they are a part of the cognoscenti. The joke is on today’s peasants and surfs who take both money and art way too seriously.

This work of art, according to Emmanuel Perrotin, the dealer who bought the first in the limited series, is worthless without the artist’s certificate of authenticity. Art that depends entirely on extrinsic belief to have any value is intrinsically worthless. There’s nothing here without the right connections, the Art Basel context, the rich buyers, the obtuse pseudo-philosophical gobbledigook, and all the extraneous goings on that make this piece a mere prop in a parlour game.

This is art by and for the delusionally credulous, and the ultra-rich, who can convince themselves that anything and everything is not only art, but the best art. This shit is utterly frivolous, and no, that doesn’t make it profound.

~ Ends

[I’ve now looked at more than a dozen articles from known sources on this artwork, and minus the ones I can’t read without paying for a subscription or disabling adblocker (in which case I don’t know what they say), they all just repeat each other, even copy-pasting typos, and nobody had the guts to call out the bullshit. Why is everyone so afraid to speak up? Is it because, even if they think it’s crap, they are afraid that they might be wrong? We need some real art critics out there who have some guts. Robert Hughes would have panned this shit in a second.]

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5 replies on “Is Maurizio Cattelan’s $120,000 Banana Brilliant Art or Bullshit on a Platter?

  1. You nailed it! As broad minded as I try to be with all manner of creative expression, I’m with you on your analysis of this piece. Just.Don’t.Get.It.

    (Nice writing by the way – and I picked up a couple of new words / expressions to boot (“fuckwittery” and “doy”!).)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m not sure there’s anything to get, except that same old recycled joke about shocking the public by carting some banal object in the gallery, or being paid astronomical relative to it.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Had to look that up. So, a performance artist got the wikhed idea of eating it. Another knee-slapper.

      I didn’t mention the money becaue we all just accept that ridiculous sums go for absolute bullshit, and the rest of us artists would be lucky to make in our lifetimes what he made off one banana.

      Oh well. In the long run I suppose there will be enough people who prefer more honest work.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My personal take on the banana art thing is, if you’ve got so much money you don’t miss it when it’s wasted on artistic tomfoolery, why don’t you just take that $120K and do something useful with it, like feed the hungry.

        Liked by 1 person

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