Maurizio Cattelan’s Banana Goes Viral

As Maurizio Cattelan’s banana achieves viral-status, what does it say about the value placed on the boom/bust cycle of the art market?

First an ode to the banana in art history, used frequently by Dutch renaissance masters through to the likes of Andy Warhol, who famously painted a banana for the cover of a Velvet Underground album. More recently, an image of Natalie LL provocatively eating a banana was censored and taken down from a Warsaw gallery earlier this year, prompting a massive banana protest. And now Cattelan, whose taped banana has gone viral in the past wee —prompting waves of meme artists to weigh in alongside the mainstream media.

Whether by plan or happenstance, the events surrounding the banana after it was exhibited is truly remarkable, which unleashed absolute chaos after it went on display during Art Basel Miami Beach.

Early reports said that it was sold to two collectors on the opening day of the fair.

The next day, a protester stormed the work that remained on display and used red lipstick to scribble a conspiracy theory that the eponymous financier and convicted Child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein did not committee suicide.

Then, the next day, someone randomly ate it.

“It Tasted Like $120,000,” says the artist who serendipitously ate Maurizio Cattelan’s scrumptious artwork, commenting on the piece’s reported cost.

“It’s not vandalism, I’m a performance artist,” David Datuna said defiantly of the stunt, which has sent shockwaves on blogs and the mainstream media.

Earlier this year, Cattelan was in the press after a solid gold toilet he made was “stolen” from Blenheim Palace in England, it’s whereabouts still remain unknown.

Throughout it all, Cattelan has become a bona-fide contemporary art icon, a prankster known for provocatively posturing cheeky positions like a $120,000 banana.

One way to look at it is that Cattelan’s latest banana stunt speaks volumes to the often uneasy relationship between conceptual art and money, but also to the role of the artist’s brand and signature in perpetuating a value scheme that is difficult to justify.

After it was sold for $120k, the New York Post ran a feature by its Comedian on its cover with a headline that read: “Bananas! Art world gone mad — this duct-taped fruit sold for $120k.”

The real trojan horse behind the banana, however, is not so much what it says about the creation of value via conceptual or ready-made art, but rather the lack thereof.

When someone buys a banana taped onto the wall of a gallery they are not just buying the literal object. Rather, they are buying the idea behind it. In this case, the rights to Cattelan’s concept—presumably the rights to display, loan, or resell it, too.

Back to the banana itself. Is it now a viral readymade for a post-readymade era? Or the banana bread for an art market gone quantumly mad.

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Also published on Medium.

.ART Team
.ART Team
members are global citizens with interests ranging from art history to social justice. If we had an office cat we would have called it Basquiat.