Maurizio Cattelan’s duct-taped banana sculpture is making headlines once again, this time in South Korea, where much of the piece was devoured by a student who said he was staging a performance of his own.
Comedian (2019) had been on view at the Leeum Museum of Art in Seoul, which is currently having a show devoted to Cattelan, who’s widely known for his jokey sculptures. Four years ago, when it first debuted at Art Basel Miami Beach, the sculpture drew a good deal of controversy, and it seems that it continues to do so.
The Korea Herald reports that, on Sunday, an art major at Seoul National University had visited the museum, eaten the banana, and taped the peel back to the wall. The student, who was not named in the article but was later identified as Noh Huyn-soo by the Guardian, claimed to have skipped breakfast. He was hungry, he said.
But the eating of the banana, in Noh’s view, also constituted something of a performance unto itself. The “damaging a work of modern art could also be (interpreted as a kind of) artwork,” he told the Korea Herald.
Noh’s action closely recalls one done by the artist David Datuna, who visited Perrotin’s Art Basel Miami Beach booth, where Comedian premiered in 2019, and ingested the banana as a performance. Shortly afterward, Comedian was removed from the booth amid safety concerns.
When that work appeared at Art Basel, the general public puzzled over how such an object could be considered art, in no small part due to its hefty price tag of $120,000. Still, the piece found some defenders. Andrew Russeth wrote in ARTnews, “The wise and sane thing to do would probably be to ignore this, but I will admit it: I love the banana, even as it fills me with dread.”
In the years since, the piece has continued to face scrutiny for entirely different reasons. In 2022, the artist Joe Morford sued Cattelan, claiming that Comedian had plagiarized a piece Morford had made 13 years earlier.
Regarding the Noh incident, a Leeum Museum spokesperson told CNN that no measures have been taken against Noh.
“It happened suddenly, so no special action was taken,” the representative said. “The artist (Cattelan) was informed of the incident but he didn’t have any reaction to it.”