In 2019, Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan sold an intrepid little piece of art entitled “Comedian,” for $120,000, a move which gained significant media attention. The reception of “Comedian” was mixed — some praised Cattelan who remains a notable prankster in his field, and some questioned whether “Comedian” was even art at all. This was the artist who cast a fully functioning toilet in solid gold and titled it “America.”
But I remember reading about this absurd banana that was sold for $120,000 and being captivated by the brilliance of such a statement — because that’s what it was for Cattelan — a statement that would unquestionably spark intense debate about how our culture values pieces of art and pieces of commodity. “Comedian” is a commonplace, low value object taped to the wall with little care for the quality of exhibition. Bananas are an easily accessible item of food with a short shelf-life. This opposes traditional works of art which have remained intact for hundreds of years. The banana is duct-taped to the wall, and not protected whatsoever. If one thinks about it as a reflection on what we now consider art, the possibilities of Cattelan’s inflected meanings are endless.
Global consumerism may have infected most forms of artistic expression in our culture…”
With the current trajectory of expression, a work like “Comedian” was clearly inevitable. Everyone, more or less, is perplexed by the status of paintings, drawings, photography and sculpture, whose purposes and beauty have become inaccessible to anyone without a college degree. The casual observer missed the jump that artists took from narrative — which was truly more of a plunge off the cliff of reality — until all that is perceptible now is the meaninglessness of their falling. Now, art depends on context. Without it, no one knows what they are looking at.
That’s why “Comedian” is essential for anyone who wishes to gain perspective. This work of art deserves to be in the genre of contemporary art as it both questions and celebrates the current movement — although most artists and passionate observers would argue that art is now defying structure, time and genre.
Truthfully I loathe almost everything that art in my time has to offer. From Max Ernst to Yayoi Kusama, all of it is so brutally pretentious that I’m cringing at my keyboard thinking of the inordinate amount of money made at the creation and auctioning of these ‘works of art.’ Global consumerism may have infected most forms of artistic expression in our culture, but it’s for damn sure that contemporary art has maintained all of its integrity. It is a rightfully sequestered community of crackpots that feed off of an imagined genius. Need I mention the sheer depth of money laundering that takes place within this high society, and the evidence is within a moment’s reach. It’s a $67.4 billion market and it’s expanding into a smaller collection of members.
A good example of this absurdity is “Onement VI,” a painting by Barnett Newman. It’s a blue square with a line down the middle. Those who admire it have a great deal of things wrong with them. Newman describes his work as revolutionary, one that features a “zip” down the middle which his passionate observers term as “a rip that opens the universe, a crack in space and time.” Legitimate ‘critics’ say that it has never been done before, but they clearly haven’t seen much of anything below their penthouses. Anyone, and I mean anyone with a rational mind and an able body can do that.
To end this on a positive note, I’ll submit my hope for a future in contemporary art that most likely will never come. I would like people to accept reality for what it is, and for them to maintain some solid structure while also subverting it, showing the ordinary man or woman how they can escape. A great example of this is “Portrait of An Artist,” by David Hockney. This painting can represent many things to many people, just like any work of abstract expressionism. It makes me think of the division between the subconscious and the conscious. But unlike Newman’s “Onement VI,”this one was difficult to produce and is a lot more interesting to look at than a dumb, big blue square.