The man behind the duct-taped banana

Maurizio Cattelan's <em>Comedian</em>, for sale from Perrotin at Art Basel Miami Beach. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Cascone

When banana was just a fruit

Recently, the art world had a ‘Banana’ moment and it was caused by no-one else than the banana itself. Well, a banana duck-taped to a wall, to be exact. That’s right! I’d be surprised if you haven’t heard of it, but just in case you’ve missed it, it’s an art installation by Maurizio Cattelan dubbed Comedian. I’ve been following the artist’s work for quite some time now and in wake of his recently caused abruption, I wanted to share some of his artwork. But before jumping to some of his earlier works, I couldn’t, not mention the atomic banana.

Why everyone went bananas?

It broke the art world, the internet and the Miami art exhibition Art Basel, where it was first revealed to the world. And the bomb that it was, it tore apart everything that it came in contact with. People hated and loved it, cursed and praised it – but no one was indifferent. Most importantly, it sparked a public debate about art and our society and about what counts as art. One thing I’m sure is that art is very subjective and that the discussion if Maurizio’s banana qualifies as one, is well… Quite a slippery one. Just like banana peels in cartoons are.

Could things get even more bananas?

Just a few facts, the ‘masterpiece’ had three buyers that compared the work to Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans. Yup. Two editions went for $120,000 before the price was raised to $150,000. Besides the banana and the duct tape, buyers also received a certificate of authenticity and instructions on how to replace the fruit. Secondly, there was a separate performance artist who ate the banana. He called his performance ‘The hungry artist’. Again – yup. Finally, the work had to be taken down as things were getting out of control: too many people came to the gallery, police had to be involved and it was too much for the security to handle.

 This debatable work has spawned parodies of all sorts – people started taping bananas and other objects just about everywhere: from public places to their own faces. Even huge brands like Burger King, Heinz, Pepsi, Perrier and so on, tried to monetize on the trend. Brands attempted to ride the coattails of the famous artwork and the buzz it created by making their own versions of the duct-taped goods.

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The man behind the banana

The idea of Comedian as a joke was dismissed, but Maurizio Cattelan is known for being somewhat of a prankster in the art world. He’s an absurdist, and his satirical approach to art has earned him such title. Born in the 1960s, the Italian artist raised to fame with his hyperrealistic sculptures and installations.

He really started getting on the map after replacing the toilet at the Guggenheim with a fully functioning golden one – he called the artwork America. Later it was stolen. And that’s how he made the headlines.


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One of his other, better-known works is called La Nona Ora. It’s a sculpture depicting a fallen Pope who has been hit by a meteorite. For the third time now – yup. Maurizio is self-taught and has been learning by making shows, and through reading art catalogs. In the mid-1990s he mostly used taxidermy for his exhibitions, and in 1999 he started making life-size wax sculptures of different subjects. Including of himself, and the previously mentioned fallen Pope one. His work was often based on simple puns, one-liners, or subverts like substituting animals for people for his sculpture installations.


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About the Toilet Paper

In 2010, Cattelan and the photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari co-created Toilet Paper. The bi-annual, picture-based publication magazine. Personally, I first came in contact with Maurizio’s work through this exact magazine. I got hooked and from there I went down the rabbit hole, right to the present and to the banana (sounds like a swear word at this point).

What makes Toilet Paper special, is a twist in the images – it’s very playful, colorful and ambiguous. It’s very Dada. The project began when both artists collaborated on a shoot for the Art Issue of W magazine in 2009. They loved working together so much that they decided to spiral out on their own.

Artists claim to do an issue in twenty-four hours. They start by going to the newsstand and buying anything that catches their eye. Every image is made from scratch and starts with a basic theme (like love or greed) and then they start building layers and improvise improvise improvise.



Photo courtesy of Maurizio Cattelan

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Good post with good information. However, if Cattelan publishes a magazine called toilet paper, that is probably all that it is good for! Greetings and all the best,

  2. Fun informative piece. Though I have trouble with art snark as an aesthetic from psychological and humanist perspectives. But I was glad to get the info on the guy behind the farce.

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