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Has the art world gone bananas?

Has the art world gone bananas?

December 19, 2019 at 9:00am

As part of an op-ed series, FIU News shares the expertise and diverse perspectives of members of the university community. In this piece, Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum Director Jordana Pomeroy shares her views on Art Basel’s taped banana installation and the buyers who paid between $120,000 and $150,000 each one for the piece.

By Jordana Pomeroy

It’s safe to say that no other fruit has supplied fodder for comedians and lyricists throughout the years like the banana. Memorable banana-centric songs such as “Day-O" (The Banana Boat Song) made famous by Harry Belafonte on Calypso in 1956, among other mainstream examples, secured the banana’s place in popular culture.

And most recently, the starchy tree fruit became the talk of the art world thanks to Maurizio Cattelan’s latest work Comedian—highlighted like none other during last week’s Miami Art Basel.

While most Americans have never been to (or even heard of) Art Basel Miami Beach nor have heard of Cattelan, the humble banana, duct-taped to a wall, (three pieces with a price tag of $120,000 to $150,000 each) has now gone viral and has become one of the most recognized and talked about works of art in recent history.

Some might wonder what is with an art world so foolish as to confer high art status to a piece of fruit—and, moreover, to anticipate that buyers would clamber over each other for the chance to purchase it. And it’s not even a wax banana! No, this perishable art means that the buyer is expected to replace the fruit as deemed necessary.

But does this questionable display actually have true and serious value in the art world?

The truth is, it’s not my place to say. As I learned in an economics class, the value is what the market will bear. After all, a painting by Monet is simply paint and canvas, which is exactly how the IRS views donations from artists who are only able to deduct the cost of materials, which does not even come close to their value.

In other words, if Cattelan chose to donate Comedian to the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum, he could deduct anywhere from .25 to $1, depending on where he purchased the banana.

Comedian fits into a long line of conceptual art that originates with Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, a porcelain industrial urinal of no particular specialness that he signed “R. Mutt,” and exhibited in 1917 at the Society of Independent Artists. Yes, a urinal, but a profound, anti-art statement as well that caused a seismic shift in how we view art, how we confer value on art, and how we talk about art.

Much is debated over the value of art we see at art fairs and some prominent art fairs exhibit art that I consider, at best, derivative. But someone out there is purchasing these works, otherwise the same galleries wouldn’t come back year after year. The blue-chip, Paris-based Galerie Perrotin, clearly understood how to harvest the fruits of their labor—and you can’t argue with success.