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Throughout the 1990s, “60 Minutes” could reliably stir up middle American eye-rolling by showing works of modern art that committed the sin of looking as though an amateur could have made them.
Morley Safer’s 1993 segment featured a Cy Twombly “Untitled” scrawl that fetched $2,145,000 at Sotheby’s Winter Sale of Contemporary Art. But the real scorn was reserved for even more “But is it art” type pieces. Safer all but giggled as he described Jeff Koons’ “Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank” going for $150,000. Safer joked that the exorbitant price for a work of art that could presumably be created by anyone with a fishtank and three basketballs had given new meaning to the term “slam dunk.”
Koons’ basketball piece is now assessed as ‘one of the most influential works in the history of contemporary art’ by curator Jeffrey Deitch, who himself is lampooned in the 60 Minutes piece. But judging value by at least one measure – dollars – Deitch and the 1993 buyer were right and 60 Minutes and its snickering audience were wrong. Koons’ related piece, One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series), sold for $17,189,000 at auction in May 2016.
The modern version of a 60 Minutes “Can you believe people will pay big money for something that looks like a 4th grader made it” occurs when Matt Drudge uses his massive audience to shine a light on the folly of today’s contemporary artists.
On December 6, the Drudge Report featured the headline “Banana Duct-Taped To Wall By Artist — Sells For $120,000 At Art Basel In Miami.” The story described the latest work by Italian satirical sculptor Maurizio Cattelan. The banana was simply duct-taped to the wall at Emmanuel Perrotin’s gallery.
Cattelan is probably best known for his “golden toilet” – the $6 million privy that was stolen from England’s Blenheim Palace earlier this year.
This year’s three banana series, known as “Comedian,“ was the talk of Art Basel, especially after the first two went for $120,000 each. And even more especially when a performance artist ate the third and greatest banana, which had been expected to fetch $150,000.
“Comedian” meets Performance Artist
The snacker turns out to be NYC performance artist David Datuna.
According to the Miami Herald, on Saturday at about 1:45, a patron at Perrotin Gallery, where a big crowd had already gathered to see the banana, reported to one of Perrotin’s partners, Peggy Leboeuf, that someone was eating the banana, which still had duct tape stuck to its peel. Leboeuf thought it was Cattelan himself enjoying the pricey snack. When she realized it was not, she said to Datuna, “You’re not supposed to touch the art!”
But it turns out that the banana actually is intended to be eaten. Bananas don’t last all that long, obviously, and what the buyer is getting is the “Certificate of Authenticity” – the document that basically answers the question “60 Minutes” raised 26 years ago: Is this art because of how it appears or because of what its creator was trying to communicate?
“Hungry Artist” David Datuna tells Globe: “It’s not about the banana.”
The most famous art banana since Andy Warhol’s cover painting for the first Velvet Underground record became the most photographed, Instagrammed and discussed work at this year’s Art Basel.
“I have all respect for Maurizio Cattelan, one of the top artists in the world,” Datuna told the Globe on Sunday morning. “I know all his works. His works make fun. Fun of society. Same with banana piece. Fun of who? Fun of viewers. It’s like ‘banana’ or ‘art’? Genius idea. I’m just thinking, ‘How I can answer to Maurizio? How can I beat him?’ So one artist eat for another artist. So it’s also fun.”
“The gallery said, ‘It’s not about the banana, it’s about the idea.’ Absolutely. All art is about the idea. Any piece is very easy to make. It’s all about the idea. When I eat it, it’s not about my stomach, it’s about I eat another idea.”
“The gallery had a shock. They said, ‘You know you’re going to be arrested,’ and I said, ‘No problem. I do installation in Russia in Red Square, I’d do it in North Korea, I do it in front of the White House. When Modigliani gave Picasso an artwork and said ‘Let’s be friends,’ for the next few days, Picasso painted Picasso artwork in front of Modigliani artwork. It was a big scandal at the time. So actually, this is the same thing. Everyone said, ‘what a genius idea – it’s just banana and duct tape.’ It is genius, but what else can you do? Just eat it. It’s between two artists. It’s between Maurizio Cattelan and me. But he’s master.”
Datuna, who was born in the former Soviet Union and has lived in New York for 20 years, has not heard from Cattelan since Saturday’s snack. He’s had major success in his own right, including a show at the Smithsonian. Collectors of Datuna’s work include the Tisch family, Uri Mermelstein and PR executive Ronn Torossian.
“People told me, ‘To have a show at the Smithsonian, you have to have been dead a minimum of ten years and born in the United States.’ I was born in Georgia and obviously still alive, but in the last 32 years they hadn’t had a line like this – people stood for five hours to see the American flag through Google Glass. So when the gallery was upset and said ‘jail’ and ‘you can’t, this is vandalism.’ I said, ‘Excuse me, it’s not vandalism. I am also an artist.’ Someone else said, “You’re doing this for publicity. I said, you are about publicity. I am about art.”
Datuna has no regrets. And he made one final observation to the Globe.
“When I started to eat it, 50% of the people said ‘Don’t do it – it’s art piece!’ Another 50% said, ‘Eat it, this is bullshit.”