Banana Splits: Spoiled by Its Own Success, the $120,000 Fruit Is Gone

The banana that consumed the art world has taken early retirement.

The artist Maurizio Cattelan — whose fruit pinned to the wall with gray duct tape was sold three times at Art Basel Miami, for $120,000 to $150,000 each time — and his gallery Perrotin announced on Sunday, the last day of the fair, that the banana had been removed from its booth because of the Mona Lisa-like attention it was getting.

“This morning, following recommendations, we removed the installation at 9 a.m.,” the gallery’s statement said, adding: “Art Basel collaboratively worked with us to station guards and create uniform lines. However, the installation caused several uncontrollable crowd movements and the placement of the work on our booth compromised the safety of the artwork around us, including that of our neighbors.”

The announcement followed an incident in which a New York City-based performance artist, David Datuna, pulled the banana off the wall and ate it.

Mr. Datuna made light of his action in an Instagram post he titled “Hungry Artist,” writing: “Art performance by me. I love Maurizio Cattelan artwork and I really love this installation. It’s very delicious.”

The disruption caused by the piece, titled “Comedian,” became serious business, requiring special security guards dedicated to the banana and stanchions to manage the lines.

“Maurizio Cattelan’s ‘Comedian’ (2019) is no longer on view,” said Art Basel in a statement. “The crowds surrounding the installation posed a serious health and safety risk, as well as an access issue, so the work was removed.”

According to the gallery, Mr. Datuna’s stunt did not actually destroy the art work or whatever monetary value it might have had at that moment. The three buyers who collectively spent about $390,000 on the taped fruit had bought the concept of the piece, which comes with a certificate of authenticity from the artist, along with installation instructions. It is up to the owners to secure their own materials from hardware and grocery stores, and to replace the banana, if they wish, whenever it rots. After Mr. Datuna consumed the banana, the gallery taped another one to the wall.

Two “artist proofs” (extra prints signed as part of a limited edition) were sold to unidentified museums.

The banana has prompted both weighty and lighthearted debate about what constitutes art, and what it is worth. The fruit also now has its own Instagram account and spawned abundant takeoff images on other accounts, including one by the contemporary artist Ashley Bickerton of President Trump duct-taped to the wall.

Mr. Cattelan, an Italian artist known for his satirical takes, including a functioning gold toilet that did a turn at the Guggenheim and was recently stolen from a museum in England, said that he first conceived of the work as a banana-shaped sculpture. But after testing several materials, including resin, bronze and painted bronze, he decided to use a real store-bought banana.

The gallery’s statement announcing the banana’s removal concluded on a wistful note: “‘Comedian,’ with its simple composition, ultimately offered a complex reflection of ourselves. We would like to warmly thank all those who participated in this memorable adventure, as well as to our colleagues. We sincerely apologize to all the visitors of the fair who today will not be able to participate in ‘Comedian.’”

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