The $120,000 Banana Highlights The Elitism Of The Art World
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There’s a reason so many people find the art world to be impenetrable and elitist - it’s designed to be.
Don’t get me wrong, I love visiting my local art gallery; it’s a great place to take the kids, and often, I discover beautiful and thought-provoking pieces. But sometimes, I feel downright frustrated by the works that have been chosen for inclusion.
A few years ago, I encountered a memorable piece of modern art - a scrunched up piece of A4 paper, lying on the floor, surrounded by a do-not-cross rectangle, presumably to ensure the janitors didn’t sweep the thing up after the gallery closed.
I watched, as gallery patrons came and went, most spending several minutes staring, contemplatively, at the scrunched-up paper. Nobody laughed; there was only deferential silence. Seeking guidance, I read the accompanying plaque, which said something about how the scrunched up paper was representative of the creative struggle.
Maybe it was. But it was still a scrunched up piece of paper. And to me, that piece was a perfect representation of the insular nature of the art world, the fact that an elite group of insiders can magically imbue a piece of paper with a massive amount of monetary and cultural value, merely by proclaiming it so.
Earlier this week, Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan’s creation, “Comedian,” a banana duct-taped to a wall, was sold for $120,000. A few days later, the banana was eaten by a local performance artist, David Datuna.
“Comedian,” however, lost none of its value - the eaten banana was soon replaced by another, equally ordinary banana, which inherited the monetary value of the previous banana, and was even deemed important enough to warrant police protection, in the event of another hungry performance artist.
“[Datuna] did not destroy the artwork. The banana is the idea,” Lucien Terras, a director at the gallery, told the Miami Herald. Perhaps the entire thing was staged, a publicity stunt, like Banksy shredding his own artwork, an act which only increased the value of said work.
“Comedian” seems to be a meta-commentary on the nature of value, perhaps mocking those with the authority to transform a piece of fruit into a small fortune. But even viewing the piece in that context seems to be giving the banana too much credit - questioning the valuation of art isn’t exactly an original idea. More than a hundred years ago, Marcel Duchamp turned an ordinary porcelain urinal into a famous piece of art, titled “Fountain.” I’ve seen a replica of the piece in my local gallery, and I even stared at it, contemplatively.
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