Maurizio Cattelan: Comedian

Francesco Bonami

Curator Francesco Bonami unpacks one of the most illustrious artworks of the 21st century, Maurizio Cattelan’s ‘Comedian’.

Consisting of a single banana duct-taped to a wall, ‘Comedian’ is a remarkably simple artwork which created an unprecedented sensation when first debuted at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2019.

Although priced at $120,000, Bonami argues that the work’s real value is in the philosophy that it creates around objects, suggesting the work prompts us to think ‘more about what art is and what art is supposed to do in your life. Is art a commodity that people just acquire as anything else? Or is art a container of a message, and it doesn’t matter what the container is, the important thing is what it says, and what is conveyed to the viewer.’

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It created a sensation that lasted — and is still lasting — into the memory and the present of the art world and the world in general. He created a sign that went beyond the border of the art world, beyond the border of the art fair, and invaded the collective imagination of the world.

Comedian is allegedly a work of art, created by Italian artist and prankster Maurizio Cattelan. It was presented in Art Basel Miami by Perrotin gallery, in the booth. And it consists of something very simple. I can even show you how to do a Comedian. You need just these two things: tape — maybe a little bit thinner than this — and, of course, a banana. And then you attach it on a wall; you need a big wall. And you need a pair of scissors, clearly. So, take a piece like this… [tapes banana to wall]. The banana is supposed to be changed every two weeks, I think, every three weeks.

If you want to acquire Comedian, you will receive a 14-page instruction book on how to present Comedian. So, don’t think that if you have a banana and duct tape you can create a Comedian. You need to follow specific instructions, the height from the floor, the direction of the banana. And that’s what makes the duct tape and the banana a work of art. Remember, it’s not just a banana, it’s a banana with duct tape — the two things. Some people focus on the banana, some people focus on the duct tape. If you see a lot of people taking off this work of art, they take the duct tape and they tape anything they want on the wall, or something. So, for some people it’s the duct tape that makes a work of art, for some other people it is the banana. So, some other people didn’t use the duct tape and put the banana in many different situations to quote Maurizio Cattelan’s masterpiece.

I think that when the banana was put up on the wall, first it was taken as a joke, then it became an incredible sensation for the public of the art fair. I think it was maybe the beginning of the end of the Miami Art Fair because the other dealers were extremely upset by the appearance of the banana, because the crowds gathered around Perrotin booth, to look at the banana, and forgot for all the rest of the art that was displayed there to be sold. So, I think, in terms of impact and damaging to the art market: the reception was very strong. I mean, I’m surprised that nobody sued Perrotin gallery for damages. So many people wanted to see the banana that the banana was removed for crowd security reasons. Today it would not be possible because of Covid-19 to even gather so many around the banana, but at that time there was lines to take a selfie in front of the banana until another artist took the banana and ate it. That was kind of the peak of the banana’s life at the art fair.

Comedian is an interesting title because a comedian is someone that makes you laugh, but also talks about something very seriously. You know, he talks about a serious subject. He doesn’t take him or herself seriously, but he talks about serious topics. And if he talks in a good way — a stand-up comedian — it makes you laugh a lot and also reflect on the subject. So, that’s, I think, what the banana taped on the wall is. It is a comedian: it makes you laugh, enrages you, but also it makes you think and reflect about art. And I think that’s the main purpose of this thing, that some people just consider a ‘thing’, some people just consider a joke, some people consider a provocation, some people consider a prank. But all these things make you think. I don’t think whatever make you think you can consider art, but gets close to the purpose of art, you know — the good art, I mean. There is art that doesn’t make you think and there is bad art, but the good art: maybe it’s not beautiful, maybe it looks like it’s not art, but if it makes you think, it gets close to the goal of an artwork

I think that you need always a birthday in art history. I say birthday but it could be Christmas, Hanukkha, whatever, Ramadan. You need a break in the flow of time. If you don’t have a break, it becomes just a flow of time and you lose any sense of space and time, and things like that. So, it doesn’t matter if people consider them works of art or not, but both the Fountain — the upside-down urinal by Duchamp — and the banana, and Piero Manzoni’s Artist’s Shit, and Gabriel Orozco’s Empty Shoebox, they are breaks in the flow of art history. And when these breaks happen, people start to reconsider art history, start to reconsider the history of painting, of sculpture, and we start thinking about ‘real’ masterpieces. And in the light of these things that people consider jokes, we can reassess our position in relation to works of art that are more ‘substantial’.

Gertrude Stein used to say, ‘a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose’. And I think that Cattelan can say ‘a banana is a banana is a banana is a banana’. It’s a banana, at the end of the day. It’s a banana with the piece of duct tape. ‘Still life’ is one of the styles of the subject that have been very popular in art history, and there were acquired by wealthy merchants and businesspeople for status quo. You put the beautiful Dutch still life in your living room, and you create something very precious, and you establish yourself as a wealthy person in a way. The banana, it’s a still life in a sense but it’s also a gesture that more than a still life, it’s suspended life. You suspend life in that moment, and you start thinking more about what art is and what art is supposed to do in your life. Is art a commodity that people just acquire as anything else? Or is art a container of a message and it doesn’t matter what the container is, the important thing is what it says, and what is conveyed to the viewer.

That’s the value of the banana. Of course, a couple of collectors bought it for, I think, $120,000 dollars. The Guggenheim museum accepted the donation of the banana into its collection.

I think the artist — who is very shrewd operator, marketing wizard and communicator — knew that he would have created some noise around the banana, but I don’t think he was expecting to create so much noise, and to make the banana one of the most famous artworks of the early 21st century, and probably of art history in general.

Maurizio Cattelan, we could say that he’s a miracle individual. You know, I don’t think he was planning to be an artist. There are artists that are born, they feel an urgency to be an artist. I think Maurizio Cattelan was a normal person who wanted to say something to the world, and he found in art the tool that he needed to say something to the world. He was born in Padova in 1960, and slowly he rose to fame in the early 90s, with the famous pope hit by a meteorite. And that work put him on the front stage of fame in the artworld, and since then he developed more into the real art world. Before he was more of a situationist, he was creating situations rather than real physical works of art. Let’s say that with the banana, Maurizio Cattelan goes back to the origin of his true spirit. The one to surprise and puzzle, not only the artworld, but the world in general.

The art of Maurizio Cattelan is shocking, and it punches our sensibility, and our understanding of art on the right spot. It pushes the right button. Cattelan invents his own language, taking the objects of the world, and putting inside content that didn’t exist before. And I think that’s what an artist is supposed to do, to use the world and stuff it like a turkey with poignant reflections, even if they are simple. You can be poignant and very simple in your thinking. So, I think that, for me, the banana and Cattelan in general, he’s more a philosopher than a visual artist. It creates a philosophy around art, it creates a philosophy around objects. And I think that makes the language important and makes him an important figure in art history and in the history of communication.

With thanks to

Maurizio Cattelan Archive

David Owens

Perrotin

 

 

Archive

Alamy Stock Photo

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

National Gallery, London

David Owens Photography

 

 

Artwork

Comedian

Maurizio Cattelan, 2019

Banana, duct tape

Courtesy of Maurizio Cattelan and Perrotin.

 

 

Photography Credits

Comedian

Maurizio Cattelan, 2019

Installation at Perrotin, Art Basel Miami Beach, 2019

David Owens Photography for The Art Newspaper

 

Gallery owner Emmanuel Perrotin attaches a banana with duct-tape in the wall where the artwork ‘Comedian’ by Maurizio Cattelan was exhibited in Miami Beach, Florida, December 7, 2019

REUTERS / Eva Marie Uzcategui / Alamy Stock Photo

 

A man poses for a photo next to ‘Comedian’ by Maurizio Cattelan, in Miami Beach, Florida, December 7, 2019.

REUTERS / Eva Marie Uzcategui / Alamy Stock Photo

 

Comedian

Maurizio Cattelan, 2019

Installation view at Perrotin, Art Basel Miami Beach, 2019

David Owens Photography for The Art Newspaper

 

Pizza slice taped on the wall with duct tape in the style of Maurizio Cattelan

Claudio Rampinini / Alamy Stock Photo

 

A man poses for a photo next to a banana attached with duct-tape that replaces the artwork ‘Comedian’ by the artist Maurizio Cattelan, which was eaten by David Datuna, in Miami Beach, Florida, December 7, 2019

REUTERS / Eva Marie Uzcategui / Alamy Stock Photo

 

Four portraits of a woman engaging with Comedian

Maurizio Cattelan, 2019

Installation view at Perrotin, Art Basel Miami Beach, 2019

David Owens Photography for The Art Newspaper

 

A woman poses for a photo next to a banana attached with duct-tape that replaces the artwork ‘Comedian’ by the artist Maurizio Cattelan, which was eaten by David Datuna, in Miami Beach, Florida, December 7, 2019

REUTERS / Eva Marie Uzcategui / Alamy Stock Photo

 

Two men with Comedian

Maurizio Cattelan, 2019

Installation view at Perrotin, Art Basel Miami Beach, 2019

David Owens Photography for The Art Newspaper

 

A banana attached with duct-tape that replaces the artwork ‘Comedian’ by the artist Maurizio Cattelan, which was eaten by David Datuna, in Miami Beach, Florida, December 7, 2019

REUTERS / Eva Marie Uzcategui / Alamy Stock Photo

 

Art Basel visitors use their phones in front of a banana attached with duct-tape that replaces the artwork ‘Comedian’ by the artist Maurizio Cattelan, which was eaten by David Datuna, in Miami Beach, Florida, December 7, 2019

REUTERS / Eva Marie Uzcategui / Alamy Stock Photo

 

Woman poses for a photo next to a banana attached with duct-tape that replaces the artwork ‘Comedian’ by the artist Maurizio Cattelan, which was eaten by David Datuna, in Miami Beach, Florida, December 7, 2019

REUTERS / Eva Marie Uzcategui / Alamy Stock Photo

 

Art Basel visitors use their phones in front of the wall where the artwork ‘Comedian’ by the artist Maurizio Cattelan was exhibited in Miami Beach, Florida, December 7, 2019

REUTERS / Eva Marie Uzcategui / Alamy Stock Photo

 

Visitor uses his phone in front of the wall where the artwork ‘Comedian’ by the artist Maurizio Cattelan was exhibited in Miami Beach, Florida, December 7, 2019

REUTERS / Eva Marie Uzcategui / Alamy Stock Photo

 

Comedian

Maurizio Cattelan, 2019

Installation at Perrotin, Art Basel Miami Beach, 2019

David Owens Photography for The Art Newspaper

 

Two men contemplate Comedian

Maurizio Cattelan, 2019

Installation view at Perrotin, Art Basel Miami Beach, 2019

David Owens Photography for The Art Newspaper

 

Art fair visitor with their back to Comedian

Maurizio Cattelan, 2019

Installation view at Perrotin, Art Basel Miami Beach, 2019

David Owens Photography for The Art Newspaper

 

Fruit and Flowers

Paulus Theodorus van Brussel, 1789

The National Gallery, London

(CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

 

 

Still Life with Lobster and Fruit

Abraham van Beyeren, probably early 1650s

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

(CC0 1.0)

 

Still Life with a Glass and Oysters

Jan Davidsz de Heem, ca. 1640

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

(CC0 1.0)

 

Still Life: A Banqueting Scene

Jan Davidsz de Heem, ca. 1640-41

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

(CC0 1.0)

 

A man contemplates Comedian

Maurizio Cattelan, 2019

Installation view at Perrotin, Art Basel Miami Beach, 2019

David Owens Photography for The Art Newspaper

 

Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan poses (reclining) prior to the opening of the exhibition “Not Afraid of Love” at the Hotel de la Monnaie in Paris, France, October 17, 2016

REUTERS / Philippe Wojazer / Alamy Stock Photo

 

Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan poses (jumping) prior to the opening of the exhibition “Not Afraid of Love” at the Hotel de la Monnaie in Paris, France, October 17, 2016

REUTERS / Philippe Wojazer / Alamy Stock Photo

 

Portrait of Maurizio Cattelan

Courtesy, Maurizio Cattelan’s Archive

 

Untitled

Maurizio Cattelan, 1995

Photograpic print

125 cm x 190 cm

Photo, Armin Linke

Courtesy, Maurizio Cattelan’s Archive

 

La Nona Ora

Maurizio Cattelan, 1999

Polyester resin, painted wax, human hair, fabric, clothing, accessories, stone and carpet

Dimensions variable

Installation view: Maurizio Cattelan, Palazzo Reale, Sala delle Cariatidi, 24 September – 24 October

2010, Milano, Italy

Photo, Zeno Zotti

Courtesy, Maurizio Cattelan’s Archive

 

Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan poses with his creation “La Nona Ora” (The Ninth Hour, 1999) prior to the opening of the exhibition “Not Afraid of Love” at the Hotel de la Monnaie in Paris, France, October 17, 2016

REUTERS / Philippe Wojazer / Alamy Stock Photo

 

Another Fucking Readymade

Maurizio Cattelan, 1996

Crated and wrapped gallery contents

Envioramental dimensions

Installation view: Crap Shoot, de Appel, Amsterdam, April 12-May 19, 1996 (work removed before

exibition opening)

Photo: Niels den Haan

Courtesy, Maurizio Cattelan’s Archive

 

Woman contemplating Comedian

Maurizio Cattelan, 2019

Installation view at Perrotin, Art Basel Miami Beach, 2019

David Owens Photography for The Art Newspaper

 

“L.O.V.E.”

Maurizio Cattelan, 2010

Hand, White “P” Carrara Marble

Basament, Bright Roman travertine

Hand, 470 cm x 220 cm x 72 cm

Basement, 470 cm x 470 cm x 630 cm

Full installation high, 1100 cm

Installation view, L.O.V.E., Piazza degli Affari, Milan, 2010.

Photo, Zeno Zotti

Courtesy, Maurizio Cattelan’s Archive

 

Untitled

Maurizio Cattelan, 1999

C-print laid down on forex on aluminium

258,00 cm x 192,00 cm

Photo, Armin Linke

Courtesy, Maurizio Cattelan’s Archive

 

Untitled

Maurizio Cattelan, 2007

Taxidermized Horse

300 cm x 170 cm x 80 cm

Installation view: Maurizio Cattela, Mmk Museum fur Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, March-December 13, 2007

Photo, Axel Schneider

Courtesy, Maurizio Cattelan’s Archive

 

AMERICA

Maurizio Cattelan, 2016

Bowl: 18K Gold

Pipes and flushmeter: gold plated

72.4 cm x 35.6 cm x 68.6 cm.

Installation view: Maurizio Cattelan: “America” 2016, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Iphoto: Jacopo Zotti

Courtesy, Maurizio Cattelan’s Archive

 

Comedian

Maurizio Cattelan, 2019

Installation at Perrotin, Art Basel Miami Beach, 2019

David Owens Photography for The Art Newspaper

 

Music

Slow Fade to White

Justin Marshall Elias

Music Vine

 

Skating

TRG Banks, 2018

FMA

(CC0 1.0 Universal)

 

Ambient dreamscape

Ebcrosby, 2016

Freesound

(CC BY 3.0)

 

Octopussy

Juanitos, 2010

FMA

(CC BY 2.0 FR)

 

Ambience

InspectorJ, 2016

Freesound

(CC BY 3.0)

 

Lonely Island

Migfus20, 2021

Freesound

(CC BY 3.0)

 

Smooth Actor

Podington Bear, 2017

FMA

(CC BY-NC 3.0)

 

Drag Along Behind

Aboombong, 2010

FMA

(CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

 

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