Usually, I write about art for Artlaw.club platform, but there my articles tackle art law or art market-related topics. This time I just want to write a philosophical, “thinking-out-loud” discussion piece. (Besides, with less of an article-straightness and more of a blog-post frivolity.)
I guess everyone by now knows of Maurizio Cattelan’s “banana duct-taped to the wall” (a.k.a. “Comedian”).
It triggered David Datuna’s performance “Hungry artist”, countless marketing responses from all over the world, and numerous memes on the Internet. The hype will pass in a while, but as it was with Banksy’s shredding intervention at Sotheby’s auction (“Love is in the bin”), this “artwork” (quotes intentional) will enter art history as “the memory of the year 2019”. Now, this makes me wonder about several things.
To begin with, does this all mean that the art world is doomed?
Many of the big works that everyone knows about are hype type of works. It is about being provocative, causing some sort of commotion and then fetching big buck for something, which frequently lacks both the looks and the substance. Not that it hasn’t happened before. After all, there has been Manzoni’s “Artist’s shit” in a can, Duchamp’s “Fountain” (upturned urinal), even Warhol’s “Campbell soup” cans. Outrageous? Well, something so “classic” for us nowadays as impressionist works was also once perceived as outrageous. Cubism?… Same story! But then again, cubism is not a duct-taped banana. Neither is (arguably, perhaps, yet looked in the context) even a urinal as an artwork…
While many modern artworks make me question whether I would ever consider them as such, or whether I would even notice them had there not been a plaque next to them, I am still convinced that “the banana” is not a healthy trend (despite its nutritious qualities).
What is the point of putting an effort to create something, of putting thought into an art piece, when one can just “hype it out” and get away with it? Yes-yes, I know… Warhol! (“Art is everything one can get away with”) But… seriously?!
And, of course, Cattelan is known for his “funny, prankster” type of works, as some other artists also are, but… Come on!
In one of my articles for Artlaw.club I made a point that I don’t believe that the art market is in a bubble (mainly for the sake that there is no such thing as the homogenous art market; there are many segments and despite globalization, still a lot of regionality in the market for such a statement. If you care to read in more detail — here is the link to that article — https://artlaw.club/en/artfinance/is-the-art-market-bubbling-or-just-casually-simmering). However, I think, and in fact, I hope that this particular segment — “hype for the hype’s sake” — is in a bubble. Should be.
I am convinced that while the hype is certainly one of the ways how to attract the attention of a large audience unless this attention is then directed to a worthwhile cause, it does no good. Actually, it even does wrong. It is a bit like you have terrorists waving an Islam flag and the masses now associate all Muslims with terrorists. Same thing! If the hype is considered to be art — that downgrades art.
In the end, even worthy artworks will face the danger of being treated with an eyeball-roll and an “oh yeah, that art-thing” kind of an attitude.
That hurts art. Full-stop.
Another important thing here is, of course, the price. Perhaps, it is even THE main thing in the whole story. That makes me recall Banksy again and his print inscribed with a phrase: “I Can’t Believe You, Morons, Actually Buy This Shit”… People, we are talking $120,000 ($150,000 for the third edition)! To note, that’s the price not even for the “artwork”, it is basically for the certificate of authenticity, signed by Cattelan. I am perfectly aware of the prices routinely being paid in the art market, where many transactions are questionable at best. In the way things are now, it resembles a ridiculous money-throwing game the rich are playing with no added value to anything, but some egos and private bank accounts.
All in all, I just find it a pity that on one hand, as I said, art gets downgraded by such hype things, and on the other, that it is hype for the sake of hype, meaning the lost opportunity to actually bring any message whatsoever.
Now the question to ponder about is: should art be bigger than itself and be used as a vehicle of change, as a way to communicate an important message or support a cause? Or… is art just anything one can get away with?
What do you think?