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“It’s not vandalism, I’m a performance artist,” said David Datuna, the New York-based artist who’s basking in his 15 minutes of fame for eating the banana in Maurizio Cattelan’s $120,000 installation-slash-troll Comedian last week at Art Basel Miami Beach. Datuna spoke at a press conference in Manhattan, which was attended by more than a dozen journalists from the local and international press.
Datuna quickly went viral on Saturday, December 7, when he removed a banana that Cattelan had taped to a wall with duct tape, peeled it, and ate it in front of hundreds of stunned fairgoers. “It’s art performance … hungry artist,” Datuna was recorded saying in a moment that was widely shared on social media. Representatives of Galerie Perrotin escorted Datuna off the premises but the gallery said that it will not press charges. Since then, Art Basel has removed the fruit piece from the fair, citing public safety and health risks in addition to access issues.
Datuna said that the idea to infringe on Cattelan’s work came to his mind on Saturday morning, but he waited until he got hungry to execute his plan around noon. “It’s not a banana, it’s a concept,” he said. “I just ate the concept of the artist.”
“I think this the first time in history that one artist eats the concept of another artist,” Datuna said proudly. His action was not directed against Cattelan’s work, he clarified. “I respect this artist, for me he’s one of the top artists in the world,” Datuna said of Cattelan and compared the artist’s banana piece to Marcel Duchamp’s conceptual porcelain urinal, “Fountain” (1916), which shocked tastemakers more than a 100 years ago.
Cattelan’s stunt has reached far and wide, perhaps outdoing the sensation of his gilded toilet “America” (2016), which still has not been retrieved after it was stolen from Blenheim Palace in the United Kingdom in September. Reactions to and interpretations of the installation abound on social media with people replacing the banana with all sorts of objects. On Friday, the New York Post featured Comedian on its cover with a headline that read: “Bananas! Art world gone mad — this duct-taped fruit sold for $120k.” And indeed, most of the outlets present at Datuna’s press conference were publications that are not associated with the art world — Reuters, Bloomberg, and NBC, among others — proving the wide public’s special interest in this dubious artistic phenomenon.
Seizing on the publicity surrounding Cattelan’s work was another visitor to the fair who used red lipstick to graffiti “Epstein didn’t kill himself” on the empty wall of the removed banana piece. Roderick Webber, a 46-year-old man from Massachusetts was arrested on charges of criminal mischief and his graffiti was quickly cleaned up.
Before the banana stunt, Datuna was more known for his Viewpoint of Millions series which features portraits of celebrities (Steve Jobs; Barack Obama; Marylin Monroe) and flags through a surface made from eyeglasses. Some of his work is political, too. In October 2016, a month before the presidential elections, he unveiled his public installation Make America Stronger Together in front of the Trump Tower in New York, and later in front of the White House in Washington, DC. The installation was a 10 x 20-foot mixed media sculpture that showed the American flag with the writing “SOS” on one side and “One” on the other. Datuna also runs an art gallery in Long Island City, Datuna Art Space, where he shows his work and works by other artists.
Responding to Hyperallergic’s question on whether his action in Miami was anything more than a public relations stunt, Datuna said, “It’s not about PR … I already have PR. I’m a Smithsonian recognized artist … I don’t need PR.” After a second he added: “But if it’s going be good PR, I’m going to say okay, why not?”
When asked if Cattelan’s banana deserves a $120,000–$150,000 price tag, Datuna said, “I think the idea maybe costs more. Money means nothing. It’s just numbers on paper. It all about ideas.” And when asked by another journalist about the banana’s taste, he said, “It tasted like $120,000.”
Datuna, who appeared surprised by the significant media presence in the room, was eager to emphasize that he was more than just a passing prankster. “I’m not a banana eating person; I’m an artist and this was an installation performance,” he said. “This is how artists talk to each other … We talk by art,” he added and ended the press conference by taking a selfie in front of the press cameras.