Like it or not, the artwork that got the most attention at Art Basel in Miami last week was a spotty banana duct-taped to a wall by artist Maurizio Cattelan. The piece sold for $120,000 (three times over), only then to be removed from the wall and eaten by David Datuna who proclaimed, “I respect Maurizio but it’s art performance. Hungry artist.” Absurdity, we know — it wasn’t so apeeling to us either and made us wonder if the multi-day exhibition extravaganza was merely a bunch of fools, going bananas!
Perhaps these banana puns are making you peel unwell, so we’ll get serious for a moment as the time is ripe…
More important than the banana itself, is what it represents: a contemplation on the pretensions of the art world and a skewering of the art market. Whilst this witty stunt might look childish on the surface, it has sparked many debates and discussions around cultural authenticity, financial security, and even labor movements with janitors comparing themselves and their labor to the value of the fruit. Aside from the banana, the climate crisis was front and center, from young artists doing live awareness-raising performances, to life-size sand cars taking over South Beach in Leandro Erlich’s “Order of Importance”, and even Rubem Robierb’s melting ice-sculpture proclaiming “HOW DARE YOU”.
Beyond the messaging of the installations, many have begun to question the impact of the art industry itself, talking about opportunities to use design for ‘green’ gallery transitions and similarly, more sustainable transactions that involve using responsible shipping companies and reusable shipping containers. The first ‘zero-waste’ art party was hosted at Art Basel this year by artist Shinique Smith who creates sculptures from secondhand clothing, alongside Bottletop’s #TogetherBand campaign raising awareness for SDG 12: Responsible Production and Consumption.
But the art world bears a strong semblance to the world of investing, whereby the visceral and emotional side of these issues doesn’t always translate into meaningful action. Unless collectors push to see both these themes and sustainable practices translated into artwork and consequent sales for artists and galleries, there is no real imperative for the creators to change the way this world operates. The ‘green hush’ of this year’s Basel Miami highlighted the discomfort, and in some cases apathy, of an industry with a monumental carbon footprint trying to raise awareness on the exact issues it is contributing to.
So, what the banana did was disrupted centuries of thinking about an artist’s role as a skilled creator and shed light on the significance of their influence in shifting social issues and cultural norms. There’s a long way to go, but with artists taking action on sustainability matters through their work, the future is… fruitful.
Lauren Thurin, VP, Business Development
Hayley Mole, Investment Associate
Art Basel is organizing a three-day summit in Abu Dhabi in its latest effort to evolve beyond art fairs, looking to expand local art scenes and approach issues, including sustainability, in a more experiential way.
Creative Time , a New York-based nonprofit, seeks to support the creation of innovative, site-specific, socially engaged artworks accessible to the public eye. A current project, VIGIL, sheds light on the importance of using art as an expression for social change, by focusing on gun violence by projecting stories and testimonies onto the iconic Rockefeller building.
There is widespread agreement that art is ‘very important’ — but it can be remarkably hard to say quite why. Get your hands on Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton to understand the thinking and how in order for art to enjoy its privileges, it has to be able to demonstrate its relevance in understandable ways to the widest possible audience.
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