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One Month Later: The Ballad of the Banana at Art Basel

The Ballad of the Banana at Art Basel

2019 rang in quite a memorable Art Basel Miami. A conceptual art* piece by the semiretired Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan hosted by longtime collaborator French contemporary art gallery Perrotin seemingly stole the show.

* Conceptual Art is defined as "art valuing and relying on the overall idea of the work rather than the use of materials or efforts used in its creation". Conceptualism is a progression of art movements designed to challenge push traditional notions of what qualifies as art.

The piece was no one-off entry by an up-and-comer, but the latest installment by a career artist of over 35 years. Mr. Cattelan has a solid reputation creating controversial art. His most known work is a solid gold toilet entitled America, which drew heavy criticism (and was even stolen). Work like this has made Maurizio’s art a mainstay in the Fine Art World. 

Here is the day-by-day recount of the affair. 

Wednesday, December 4th:

After a fifteen year hiatus, Maurizio unveiled Comedian to Art Basel consisting of  a banana, a strip of duct tape, and the blank space of a white wall in Perrotin Gallery's space. The piece was accompanied by a number of descriptions and instructions including "Collectors must change the banana every 7-10 days" as instructed by the gallery owner Emmanuel Perrotin. The work was available for sale at the headline-catching price of $120k. CNN even mentioned the work in its early weekend roundups.

Friday, December 6th

Once word got out that two "artist proofs" sold with a third sale to a museum slated for $150k, the story gained even more traction. As the story updated, the internet quickly took to arms to form opinions about the work and discuss its validity and merit, like so many works before it have garnered. However, whatever lighthearted intrigue that started, the interest began to ferment into outrage as the story gained more traction in the public eye. 


Saturday, December 7th

By Saturday, the fervor grew to the point that a "performance artist" managed to record himself eating the banana, alleging that he was participating in the work. Mr. Callaten denied the performance art was part of the installation as it was not arranged beforehand. The vandal was removed from the building with no official charges, having further pushed the story into viral status, continuing headlines and extrapolating the work into an exciting multi-level story. 

Sunday, December 8th

After the vandalism/consumption/performance art of Saturday, Comedian was taken down on Sunday at the request of Art Basel (a day early). Security cited the amount of traffic was creating an unsafe environment including fire safety concerns. Comedian’s absence did not quell the enthusiasm of the audience. It didn’t take long until socio-political commentary found its way into the now empty spotlight. A bystander wrote in red lipstick a popular internet theory about Jeffrey Epstein upon the wall (misspelled, to boot) adding yet another layer to the drama. This vandal was charged with criminal mischief and arrested. Like all successful memes, the permutation had begun.A white sheet was used to cover the vandalism.  

Monday, December 9th

With Art Basel Miami closing down and the Comedian proofs getting the private jet treatment to their respective buyers, what is left is a sordid story. What is art, and its relationship to the public, is once again the hot topic of discussion. Only the future will tell if the work will outlast the legacy of the memes born from it. At least Mr. Callaten can rest knowing that he hasn’t lost a step, even when dealing with a slippery medium.


One Month Later: What do we have?

With Art Basel nearly a month behind us, it's important to look back and see what Comedian's overall impact has been (if any). 

Historically speaking, Comedian is the latest example of pushing the boundary of what qualifies as art. As Duchamp's Fountain garnered outrage from the public, Comedian also drew ire and debate from across a larger audience than anyone could have expected. 

Artistically and culturally speaking, the echoes seem to be few and far between. Memes that were created to communicate the absurdity of the work and it's commercial success (a teacher's strike in Florida saw a picket line of workers taping bananas to themselves, pointing out how the work was valued more than their annual salaries). 

Socially speaking, the Comedian has carried the torch of art outrage. The conversations surrounding the work have been heavily focused on the artistic merit of the work and if it is deserving of the spotlight it received, which has been argued is part of the achievement.

It would be fascinating to revisit Comedian in a year or so to see if there has been any long-lasting effects of its work, but at present it appears that it will go the way of most pop music, striking hard and fast and then quietly disappearing to the history books until the next page is turned. 


One could argue that the work did accomplish its goals, according to the artist. However, it appears that with the internet age being in full swing, it would be fair to say that even Mr. Cattalen himself, having been away from Art Basel Miami for 15 years, may not have anticipated the internet's ability to amplify and signal boost a single piece of work. 

What are YOUR thoughts on the events of Art Basel? We would love to hear from you! 


Additional Reading and Sources :

Maurizio Cattelan's website:


Conceptual Art:


News Sources for extra reading:

More discussion about the work: