In a Guardian essay published Friday, South Korean student Noh Hyun-soo explained his decision to eat the banana that constitutes Maurizio Cattelan’s Comedian (2019).
Hyun-soo made headlines when he visited Seoul’s Leeum Museum of Art on April 27 and chose to interact with the Cattelan sculpture in a decidedly unusual way. He wasn’t the first to consume this work—artist David Datuna also did so during the debut of Comedian at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2019—but his stunt provoked a new level of fascination with the piece.
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When Perrotin gallery premiered Comedian four years ago, the piece sold for $120,000. Composed of little more than a banana duct-taped to a wall, the piece was ultimately removed from Perrotin’s Art Basel booth due to safety concerns. Earlier this month, Cattelan won a copyright infringement lawsuit that centered around the work.
Cattelan’s art regularly provokes controversy, with past works involving a kneeling miniature Hitler and a sculpture of the Pope felled by a meteorite. But, in his Guardian essay, Hyun-soo said that he didn’t know much about Cattelan prior to eating the banana.
“I’m not familiar with Cattelan’s work, other than the banana,” Hyun-soo wrote. “I think Comedian can be considered a work of art, apart from the ridiculous price. But there will be different opinions. I’ve never met him, so I don’t really know what he thought of my eating the banana, but I read an article in which his response was ‘no problem at all’.”
He took the opportunity to respond to some facts reported by the South Korean press and then reiterated internationally. He said he was not an art student (“I’m actually studying religious studies and aesthetics at Seoul National University”) and that he didn’t ingest the fruit as an intentional protest or as a means of whetting his hunger (“I think it’s up to the public to decide on that”). He didn’t do so in a strange way either, he clarified, writing, “I ate it as I would normally eat a banana. Nobody tried to stop me.”
But he did say that one common reading of the events was correct. “Some people see my banana eating as simply vandalism. Others say it was done for publicity – and I agree. The act of damaging someone else’s artwork has made me famous. I was an ordinary person, and now thanks to the ‘comedy’ of eating a banana, I’m in the Guardian.”
And then, for some reason, there were also musings on AI and the future of art.
“I’m graduating from university this year. After my studies, I want to create my own art,” Hyun-soo wrote. “I’m very interested in artificial intelligence paintings, and it would be fun to express the religious aspects of the east through AI. I believe AI paintings will gradually encroach on all our lives. I am curious and fearful about what the future holds, though artworks driven by philosophical insights inspire me.”