Phillipian Commentary: Art Gone Bananas

What is art? It’s a question that has perplexed humanity for centuries. Some argue that it is a subjective form of human expression that, due to its complete mobility, can’t really be defined. Others claim that art has, or should have, certain requisites that must be met. Artists and non-artists alike have debated for years on end, and another debate was sparked just recently.

Italian “artist” Maurizio Cattelan showcased his latest work, titled “Comedian,” at the international gallery Perrotin at Art Basel in Miami. Here is the catch: it is literally a banana duct-taped to the wall. That’s it. Just a normal fruit, bound to rot within a few days, taped to the wall. But here’s where things get a little crazy. The banana sold for 120,000 dollars to a French art collector. Now, why anyone would pay this price is beyond me—in my eyes, absolutely nothing about the banana screams creativity or imagination, nor does it evoke any emotion or reaction, some of the factors I believe can constitute art. Well, it actually did evoke a reaction in me—that is, confusion and bewilderment. However, the reaction should be one that is both clear and intentional, one that the artist has worked hard to bring about through their piece. [f][g]

Yet the craze did not stop here. New York performance “artist” David Datuna decided to show up and eat the banana. Yes, he grabbed the fruit, worth 120,000 dollars, and shoved it in his mouth. Now, at first, I saw this as a demonstration of how ridiculous the idea of a banana being art is. Datuna called his actions an “art performance” and even titled it “Hungry Artist”. Now I really hate to break it, but showcasing a taped banana, or eating it, and calling it art is quite possibly one of the lowliest acts of human decency I have heard of. [h][i][j]

But it seems some disagree, including Emmanuel Perrotin, the owner of the gallery. He was on his way to the airport when he heard that Datuna had eaten the banana. Enraged, he rushed back to the gallery and promptly taped another banana back on. I think it’s fair to argue that works of art, particularly ones that are “worth” tens of thousands of dollars, should not be perfectly replaceable, especially within a matter of seconds. As reflections of an artist’s effort and thought and labor, they should ideally be one-of-a-kind pieces. Lucien Terras, a director at the museum, said, “[Datuna] did not destroy the artwork. The banana is the idea.”

But all I see is laziness and a complete lack of respect for art and its importance. Art is what gave birth to the Mona Lisa and The Starry Night, two paintings that, although painted centuries ago, remain classics to this very day. Art is what built the Colosseum in Rome and the Parthenon in Athens, both incredibly important in Roman and Greek culture, which has shaped modern Western society. And to equate, or even compare, a banana such momentous works of art is downright blasphemous to me. [k][l][m]To put this into perspective, a single banana costs less than a single dollar. And yet one was sold for 120,000 dollars, almost double the prices of Tesla’s Model S. [n]

Art is a direct representation of our societal culture, usually of values and beliefs we collectively believe to be important or dangerous. So when we live in a society that accepts a banana duct-taped to a wall as a feat of modern art, what does that say about our culture? Well, in my opinion, it shows an ignorance of what art has meant and what its role has been throughout human history. [o]