One of the problems with art is that interaction is usually limited. Picasso could paint a curtain, but you wouldn’t be able to part it. Cezanne boasted that with an apple he would shock Paris. His Basket of Apples is a famous painting, but no one could pinch a fruit from it.
And then came Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. There is art you can wear, art you can see, art you can ignore, and now, art you can eat. Or buy for 120,000 dollars, which was the price of his masterpiece which consisted of a ripe banana duct-taped to a wall. Answers to any of the questions this raises will tell us more about who we are than anything Plato or Descartes ever wrote.
For starters, why? Why would anyone pass this off as art? And why? Why would the art gallery in Miami exhibit it? And why? Why would anyone pay good money for it? And why? Why would the rest of the world – including here – discuss it? This is the triumph of the banana, for years seen as a mere fruit but now promoted to a philosophical conundrum.
You can read much symbolism into this. The story of how all living beings decay (speaking here of the banana, not the artist or the gallery); the impermanence of life, and endorsement of that lovely line from the circus magnate (if circuses have magnates), P T Barnum who said that a sucker is born every minute.
And just when you thought you had heard everything, a performance artist plucked the banana art off the wall and ate it. This would have been such a terrific end to this delightful story except that it feels stage-managed somehow. I was hungry, said the performance artist, all innocence and world-weariness. Hmmm.
A fresh banana took the place of the art now moving down an artist’s alimentary canal. That was bought for the same price before someone spray painted a message on it. This was just the encouragement the gallery needed to raise the price to 150,000 dollars. That gave it a place beside another work of art – Marcel Duchamp’s urinal.
Duchamp’s message was clear: “Art is what I say is art”. The reverse thought has occupied humanity too: “It is not art when I say this is not art.” But, as the smarter among you may have realised, dear readers, both sentences mean the same.
In case all this is inspiring potential artists, let me remind you that another Italian artist, Piero Manzoni has already exhibited the end result of dedicated banana-eating. His work consists of 90 tin cans, each filled with 30 grams of human waste. That route has already been taken.
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