Comedian by Maurizio Cattelan: controversial postmodern artwork • Art de Vivre

Comedian by Maurizio Cattelan: controversial postmodern artwork

9 minutes to read
Jun 01, 2023

Maurizio Cattelan is an Italian artist known for his provocative and often controversial artworks. He gained international recognition for his conceptual and humorous approach to art. Cattelan’s work is characterized by its wit, irony, and subversive nature. One of his most famous works is titled ‘The Ninth Hour’ which depicts Pope John Paul II being struck by a meteorite. The sculpture sparked a significant debate and garnered attention from both the art world and the general public due to irreverent subject matter which marks no surprise to the outrage around his piece ‘Comedian’.

Maurizio CattelanMaurizio Cattelan © Shutterstock

Maurizio Cattelan’s ‘Comedian’ is a conceptual work of art quite simply depicting a banana duct-taped to a wall. Yet even its seemingly simple installation, ‘Comedian’s’ message is in fact far deeper for those willing to take the leap of faith and delve into more profound questions about the nature of art, value and the role of an audience. 

It cannot be denied that the piece will be looked back upon history as the most talked-about artwork of 2019, a work that provoked an outrage of debates around the world. It caused a total frenzy amongst twitter fans, Instagram and even the New York Post had something to say about it.  

For many conscious art connoisseurs, it is arguable that Maurizio’s piece is even categorized as art. One must stay open to the fact that if it has the ability to stir up emotion, it deserves some attention. He forces viewers to revaluate their preconceived notions about what constitutes art and how its value is determined. The choice of a banana, an object that is associated with everyday life and often taken for granted, adds to the subversive nature of the piece. A banana is also often associated with monkeys – adding to the irony of the entire concept. 

So, what is Maurizio Cattelan’s ‘Comedian’ really about? 

Maurizio Cattelan's ComedianComedian by Maurizio Cattelan © Rhona Wise, Shutterstock

The Art Basel born banana wasn’t just created to turn people against the art world, but evolved from inspiration. Cattelan was thinking of creating a sculpture shaped like a banana and every time he travelled, he bought a banana with him for inspiration. He hung the banana proudly in his different rooms, creating several models (first resin, then in bronze and in painted bronze) before finally coming back to the original banana – a real one. 

The name ‘Comedian’ gives enough away about the piece that Cattelan isn’t taking himself too seriously, but pushing the boundaries of how susceptible an audience is. If art meant to make you feel something, this piece certainly did. Or perhaps Cattelan put a huge amount of trust in his audience and mankind in general, to put serious analysis and thought into a banana. Without the audience, this piece is nothing. 

Did it actually sell?

‘Comedian’ sold to three buyers. Two editions went for $120,000 before the third one was raised to $150,000. You might be asking yourself why someone would buy a banana that will inevitably rot, but they aren’t really buying a banana – they’re buying a concept. 

When the banana goes bad, they simply replace it and it’s still considered an original piece.  The act of affixing the banana to a wall using duct tape further adds layers of interpretation. It raises questions about the permanence and transience of art. While the banana itself is ephemeral and will decay, the act of preservation through the tape and displays on the wall suggests an attempt to immortalize something inherently fleeting. This juxtaposition highlights the tension between the impermanence of life and the desire for lasting significance. 

What about the man who ate the banana?

When the art fair was inundated with people searching for meaning and admiring the forward-thinking pieces, a man came up and yes – he ate the banana. This man was performance artist, David Datuna. On Instagram, he wrote:

Art performance by me. I love Maurizio Cattelan artwork and I really love this installation. It’s very delicious.

Even though the two men claim this wasn’t planned, Datuna’s bold move made the piece of art even more talked about. By ingesting the “art”, he was taking away it’s pedestal and showing that it is replicable. He ate the concept a banana. 

The controversy surrounding ‘Comedian’ plays a significant role in its analysis. The artwork ignited debates about the commercialization of art, the influence of art institutions, and the role of the artist in society. Undoubtedly, the piece is controversial and for its very ability to raise questions, it marks itself as a successful piece of art.

Could anyone do it? Probably, yes. But that’s far from the point. The audience’s participation in the dialogue around the piece is also part of what makes it relevant and important, regardless of its simplicity and irony. If an audience is able to read this much into a banana duct taped to a wall, they also have a wonderful ability to see art in everything – even the ostensibly mundane.


If you’re curious to learn more about art, head to these galleries and museums in the French capital.

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