An inside look at Maurizio Cattelan’s Banana at Art Basel Miami

By Nancy Nesvet // December 10, 2019
(permission from the author)
Maurizio Cattelan's Banana

Krapp’s last banana (Paul Pedula)

The most talked about installation of the day at Art Basel Miami Beach 2019, was Maurizio Cattelan’s “Comedian” (2019, banana, duct tape, paper with text instructions) tacked to the wall of Galerie Perrotin’s booth with grey duct tape including instructions for installing it. Bought by Sarah Andelman, founder of recently closed Parisian concept store, Colette, it is accompanied by a certificate along with the banana and duct tape, including instructions for installing it. Publications from the print edition of the New York Post to the online Art Daily announced the trail of this new work from exhibition to sale (for $120,000 on December 4, during the private days of Art Basel). With Andelman saying, “It really reflects our time” reported by the New York Times on December 4, she and we neglect to acknowledge that this makes all of us artists, furthering the egalitarianism of a buyer to obtain an ordinary object used by everyone. Duchamp did this with his toilet as did Cattelan with his golden toilet, though the golden toilet limited that object to a certain class of buyers who wanted and could afford such an object. Here Cattelan goes further with the democratically eaten banana.

Why a banana? Whether appropriation or inspiration, Samuel Beckett’s single actor play, “Krapp’s Last Tape” is clearly the motivation. With representation of failed work and an illusion to repressed sexuality often cited as the theme of the Beckett play, the banana held and used for gesturing throughout the one act is a phallic shape resembling a microphone, a mouthpiece for announcing one’s opinions, a true symbol of our times. The entire play is depicted as “taped”. I cannot escape the illusion to the (duct) taping of Cattelan’s banana, nor to the fact that this New York-based artist has produced this installation clearly inspired by Beckett’s play, originally written in English, for a gallery based in Paris, where Beckett lived and worked. Catellan produced three installations, a multiplicity resembling the staging of a play.

The staged audio taping of “Krapp’s Last Tape” provides the instructions to act the play, much as Cattelan provides instructions to create the installation. In fact, in listing the props necessary for the play, Beckett specifies “banana, tape recorder”. To put up the play, or the installation, it must be “taped”. Cattelan’s banana must be peeled to reveal its interior, and it rots, ultimately shriveling up, becoming another form. People have asked what happens when it rots, when it degrades to become another form. Plays change each time they are produced. Like a play or a musical composition, it changes with each actor, each musician, each consumer, each patron. OMG, Cattelan, besting Duchamp and Andy Warhol, is appropriating Beckett’s play, taping, banana and all. To absolutely nail the allusion, the banana was eaten yesterday by performance artist David Datuna at about 1:45 PM in front of an audience at Art Basel Miami Beach 2019’s Convention Center, making it, like “Krapp’s Last Tape”, a performance. Perhaps, from his grave, where his corpse, like the banana rots, Beckett is thanking Cattelan and Datuna, for making this little-produced play famous in its visual art/performance iteration. Cattelan is giving us much more than just a joke on ourselves, in spite of ourselves. He, like Beckett, has discovered the symbol of the time, a zeitgeist. And that is what art is.

Amidst the chaos and breaking news of the banana mania, I sat with Mr. Landau at Montreal Gallery Landau Fine Art’s booth at Art Basel Miami 2019, amidst a display of the finest art of the last century. He emphasized that people now buy art only for investment, not for the satisfaction of looking at a fine piece of visual culture although he buys only art that he loves. Yet he was insistent that art must evolve, that other forms must emerge. I think, with a wink of his expert eye, he would acknowledge that this new form is indeed art, indicative of the culture that produced it. It is not sublime, not beautiful, not even original by any means, but perhaps, not ridiculous at all.