Header Photo: courtesy of ArtNet
I love what Duchamp gave the world of art. Readymades are an important artistic concept, decoupling technique from inspiring idea. His great thought is that art has no bounds, no technical requirement. It just needs to inspire, provide insight, activate, or express something that might connect.
Art’s contribution to the world from a psychic, emotional, and financial standpoint is immeasurable. Generations have been inspired and provoked by culture & expression in its many forms, from writing to design to murals to theater.
Catellan’s “Comedian”, a banana taped to the wall, which sold 3 times for a total of $390,000, was Art Basel Miami Beach’s crazy art happening du jour this year. Three insanely wealthy purveyors of art, ideas, and aristocracy, spent a large sum of money, more than most folks do in multiple years, on something utterly useless, impractical, and notably, decaying.
Buyers also received instructions on how to hang the banana, and all of a sudden our mind is in a pretzel about the question most folks come back to when art pushes its very own limits: what, in fact, is art?
And it’s a question worth taking up! But as someone who works at the intersection of art and activism, I have to say, the frivolity and headline-grabbing nature of the international gallery scene does art at large a massive injustice.
When it comes down to it, not enough of us are invested in the question posed above, so when art-stunts like Catellan’s “Comedian” come to bare, the insanity of the situation supersedes all, including what it means for making art accessible to more people.
While many institutions say things along those lines, many work to keep art exclusive. It serves them.
It’s that aloof, silly, impractical approach that keeps art on the fringes of society. It communicates to the rest of the world that art is, quite frankly, useless.
And no one would be wrong in assuming that, but there’s so much more to it.
I can’t help but think about what could be done for art education, art experiences in underserved communities, cultural resources outside high-rent areas, and the overall appreciation and support of the arts in society at large, if the money spent on pieces of art like Catellan’s banana was used to widen the circle, be more inclusive, and to energize and inspire more people with the power of art.
Any gallery that sells pieces like these could also commit to donating large chunks of these sale prices to arts education programs in public schools all over the country (and I’d highly encourage Perrotin Gallery to donate their gallery cut of the sale of “Comedian” to a deserving arts organization working with youth in underserved communities.
They can call it the “Perrotin Makes The World Better Donation,” if they like the ring of it.
Galleries representing these works and the artists responsible for creating them would still profit, and most importantly, gain recognition for the piece itself as well as the way it was leveraged to communicate the power of art to kids all over our country.
They’d be investing in the artists, architects, teachers, innovators, and creative entrepreneurs of the future. As of now, all we get is a deluge of articles about the piece in question and the inherent de-prioritization of all other works at Art Basel, or similar shows.
I’m all in favor of genre-pushing, idea-expanding art, but I’d rather make sure we can co-create a future in which we build bridges to art, not walls preventing the majority of us from seeing it.
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