Titled Comedian, the piece by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan consisted of a single overripe banana duct-taped to a wall at the gallery. Starting on Thursday, people flocked to the show to snap pictures of the curious installation, which drew a mix of bemusement, mockery and genuine interest as it made international headlines.
But on Saturday afternoon, in full view of a throng of Art Basel attendees, Datuna strolled up to the work, removed the taped banana from the wall and casually ate it.
The whole thing was captured on video. Some people laughed. Others sounded taken aback.
“It’s art performance,” Datuna said, grinning impishly as he nibbled on the fruit. “We respect Maurizio, but it’s art performance.”
Hungry Artist, he called the performance.
Moments later, a gallery official arrived and confronted him.
“Are you kidding? Did you really do that?” the woman asked.
“Yes,” Datuna responded. “But it’s performance.”
“It’s not performance,” the official told him.
Other videos posted to social media showed Datuna being escorted away by security.
“See you after jail, guys,” he said as guards steered him through the crowd.
But when the commotion settled, Datuna wasn’t arrested. The banana was replaced with a newer, fresher one. And the gallery appeared to take the whole episode in its stride.
Lucien Terras, director of museum relations for Galerie Perrotin, said Datuna’s act didn’t devalue the work or detract from its overall integrity. Yes, the original banana is now making its way through Datuna’s digestive tract, but the work comes with a certificate of authenticity, and that’s what collectors are really paying for.
“He did not destroy the art work. The banana is the idea,” Terras told the Miami Herald.
“This has brought a lot of tension and attention to the booth, and we’re not into spectacles, but the response has been great. It brings a smile to a lot of people’s faces.”
Datuna, born in Tbilisi, Georgia, is a prolific performance and multimedia artist. One of his best-known works is Viewpoint of Millions, in which he suspended thousands of optical lenses over an array of images of public figures and symbols such as the American flag.
In 2017, he spelled out US President Donald Trump’s name in a giant ice sculpture to protest against Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.
Cattelan has achieved immense popularity for his satirical creations, which over the years have included an effigy of Pope John Paul II being crushed by a meteor and a replica of the famous Hollywood sign erected on a waste dump in Palermo, Italy.
He has also had his work stolen before. In September, an 18-carat gold toilet designed by Cattelan and titled America disappeared from Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, where it was on display. Several people have since been arrested over the caper, which Cattelan called “a little bit surreal.”