It is no mystery that we live in a society of everflowing images. The projections of “mindful” celebrities, erotically narrated product lines, and ads about contemporary art surrounded our collective unconscious. A meaningful portion of society and artists criticized this notion. This is because all the images are downgraded into numbers, bypassing the story they are to tell. In the end, these numbers add up to a mischievous, yet subtle rally captivating our minds. So one might ask: “How has art become the way it is?” or “What were the turning points along the way?”
Talking about the banana
“…break, break me the old tablets!”
—Friedrich Nietzsche (1883/2006, p. 162)
In 2019, Maurizio Cattelan, an Italian artist, set a milestone on the discourse by simply taping a banana to a wall. The piece named Comedian ($120.000) once again aroused controversies on contemporary art. On one side there were people inspired by it, claiming that the banana concealed a profound meaning. But the others thought differently, reanimating the old saying “Even a child can do this!” However, there is one thing both parties (and this article) have in common: we all talk about the banana.
Google brings over 120 million entries when typed “banana on the wall.” Nevertheless, words like “starry night” (90+ million) or “impressionism” (60+ million) do not cause the same output as of February 2021. Although the comparison between those queries seems problematic due to the difference in ages, it raises a thought: “Is contemporary art all about being there as much as possible?”
“…we no longer believe in art, but only the idea of art.”
—Jean Baudrillard (1996/2005, p. 126)
Fame, urinals, and eternal conflicts
If we were to ask Baudrillard (1996/2005), a French sociologist, he would mention Andy Warhol, the American artist. Without a doubt, Warhol understood the power of the image as he pioneered the transformation of art. Even in the 1960s, he somehow saw the world of imagery coming and acted upon that by duplicating images. As a result, Warhol became an idol, a rockstar of 20th century’s modern times. For Baudrillard, he was the founder of modernity; he was a machine reproducing what had already been produced.
In the history of controversial art, the dots trace back to Marcel Duchamp, a French-American artist of many trades. While he was associated with the art movement Dadaism, he installed a satiric urinal made of porcelain. Signed in the name of “R. Mutt”, the piece Fountain (1917) was not accepted as art by some authorities (Tomkins, 1996). Ironically, he is best known for the Fountain, not being a chess player, or not being a cubist painter who gave life to exquisite pictures.
For Baudrillard, something was disappeared after Duchamp and Warhol, hanging the aesthetic aside, leaving the world but as an idea of art. Who knows? Maybe being there as an artist is not enough anymore; maybe the market demands new stars after Warhol. Basquiat, the brilliant boy of art who took the flag from Warhol, shows a perfect manifestation of this theory.
Nietzsche, F. (2006), thus spoke Zarathustra. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Baudrillard, J. (2005), Conspiracy of art. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotexte
Tomkins, C. (1998), Duchamp: A Biography. New York City, NY: Henry Holt & Co
Cattelan, M. (2019), Comedian [banana, tape on wall], Ed. 1, private collection (consumed), Available at gq.com (Accessed: 15 February 2021)
Warhol, A. (1962) Campbell’s Soup Cans [acrylic, enamel on canvas]. The Museum of Modern Art, New York City, NY. Available at: moma.org (Accessed: 15 February 2021)
Duchamp, M. (1917), Fountain [porcelain]. Tate Modern, London. Available at: tate.co.uk (Accessed: 15 February 2021)
Duchamp, M. (1912), Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 [oil on canvas]. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA. Available at: wikimedia.org (Accessed: 15 February 2021)