Tom Clyde: What is art? And can it be eaten?
This week, we return to the art world for another inspiring story. It comes from Florida, so take it with a grain of salt.
The story involves a piece of art by the renown Italian artist Maurizo Cattelan, who I’m sure you all know from his most famous piece: a solid gold toilet that was stolen from a museum a while back. As further evidence of his genius, Cattelan this time produced a work known as “Comedian.”
It was a wonderful piece of art consisting of a banana duct taped to an otherwise blank white wall. I have been unable to tell if this was an organic banana or one of the regular ones. Somehow that seems like an important detail that is not being covered. It’s maybe not the Sistine Chapel, but apparently in the art world, a banana taped to the wall was considered an important work because the right people said it was.
This masterpiece is perhaps best described by the purchasers, who paid $120,000 in real American money for it. The buyers were Billy and Beatrice Cox. I’ve never heard of them, but I’m sure they are fine people, descended from somebody who knew the value of a buck and the hard work needed to earn it. Sadly, he had the poor judgment to let his heirs get ahold of it. One article said the buyers issued a statement that said, “we are acutely aware of the blatant absurdity of the fact that ‘Comedian’ is an otherwise inexpensive and perishable piece of produce and a couple of inches of duct tape.” Acutely aware, but still willing to pony up $120,000 (of Grandpa’s hard earned cash) for it. Let me remind you that in most of the United States, that is not pocket change. In a lot of places, that would buy a reasonable house. They went on, “When we saw the public debate [the piece] sparked about art and our society, we decided to purchase it. We knew we were taking a risk, but ultimately we sense that Cattelan’s banana will become an iconic historical object.”
Or a maybe rotten banana. Honestly, if there were any doubt about the need for an estate tax, this removes it.
But wait, there’s more!
Shortly after Cox’s purchased this masterpiece, a guy walked into the museum and ate the banana. I don’t know if a $120,000 banana tastes any different from one on the kitchen counter, but the guy walked in, pulled it free of the duct tape, and ate it in front of a hundred or so shocked patrons of the arts who had nothing better to do with their time than gaze upon a banana taped to a wall.
The guy who ate it is David Datuna. Datuna declared the work to be sheer “genius,” and quite tasty. He claims to be an artist, too, and didn’t think that eating another artist’s work was inappropriate. The banana was going to rot anyway. Datuna claims to be a “performance artist,” which is supposed to excuse most anything. Ask a two-year old.
Of course the Cox’s are devastated by the destruction of their $120,000 investment. The gallery that brokered the sale is not quite sure what to do. One day they had a deal for a $120,000 piece of art, and the next, they have a rotten brown banana peel, a piece of duct tape, and a wall in need of paint. The museum director wants to know where their exhibit went. It’s not like you can just come up with another piece of genius like that. Well, actually, you can. The logical thing to do is head down to the Piggly Wiggly and buy a fresh banana. It’s not like anybody is going to know the difference.
Art is a wonderful thing, and now I know just what to get for some people on my Christmas list who are difficult to buy for. Surely they would appreciate a masterpiece like this, even if it’s not the original banana.
At this point, it’s unclear whether Datuna will be prosecuted for the destruction of this masterpiece. I suspect that, even in Florida, it would be difficult to find a jury that wouldn’t just laugh the case out of court. There might be a littering charge for dropping the banana peel on the floor of the museum. The Cox family has decided they can tape another banana to the wall and, somehow, get over it.
The whole time I was combing the internet, reading multiple stories about this tragic situation, in the back of my mind was this thought: If only we had an Arts and Culture District right here in Park City, somebody could have duct taped a banana to the wall, and we could all have been part of the experience.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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