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Student eats artwork of a banana duct-taped to a museum wall because ‘he was hungry’

<i>Kim Kyoungtae/Maurizio Cattelan/Leeum Museum of Art</i><br/>
Kim Kyoungtae/Maurizio Cattelan/Leeum Museum of Art
"Comedian" by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan

Yoonjung Seo in Seoul, South Korea and Kathleen Magramo, CNN

For some — the chance to see a banana duct-taped to a wall is to be within touching distance of a sensational moment in recent art history. For others, it’s an enticing snack.

On Thursday, an art student from Seoul National University found it to be the latter, when he removed the fruit — an iconic work by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan — from off a wall at the Leeum Museum of Art in Seoul, South Korea where it was displayed. Then he proceeded to devour it.

“The student told the museum he ate it because he was hungry,” a museum spokesperson told CNN in a phone call.

Entitled “Comedian,” the work became one of the art world’s biggest viral moments when it sold for $120,000 at Art Basel Miami Beach in December 2019. Two other editions of the piece also sold at the fair.

After chomping down the fruit, the student taped the peel back on to the wall. The peel was later replaced by the museum with a fresh banana.

“It happened suddenly, so no special action was taken. The artist (Cattelan) was informed of the incident but he didn’t have any reaction to it,” the museum spokesperson added.

The work is part of Cattelan’s solo exhibition WE that is currently running at the Seoul-based museum until July 16. The banana itself is regularly swapped out every two to three days, and is not for sale.

Cattelan is known for satirical pieces that challenge popular culture, often provoking debates around conceptual art.

This wasn’t the first time someone thought the artwork was ripe for picking.

After the first edition of “Comedian” sold back in 2019, performance artist David Datuna unceremoniously plucked the banana on display at the Perrotin gallery at Art Basel in Miami and gobbled it up as stunned onlookers watched.

Datuna relished in the stunt, posting to Instagram at the time saying “I really love this installation. It’s very delicious.” Later he defended the act, calling it an art performance at a press conference and not an act of vandalism.

Prior to the headline-making sale of artwork, Perrotin told CNN the bananas are “a symbol of global trade, a double entendre, as well as a classic device for humor,” adding that Cattelan turns mundane objects into “vehicles of both delight and critique.” The artist did not provide potential buyers with instructions on what to do when the artwork starts to decompose.

The artwork is also embroiled in a copyright battle. In 2022, Joe Morford, an artist from Glendale, California, alleged that Cattelan plagiarized his own 2000 artwork titled “Banana & Orange” — which sees the titular fruits affixed with duct tape onto painted green backgrounds on a wall.

According to court documents, Morford, who is representing himself, had registered the artwork with the US Copyright Office and posted the work on his website, Facebook and YouTube accounts long before Cattelan created “Comedian.”

Cattelan’s lawyers have argued that Morford has “no valid copyright,” to the elements of the artwork — the banana and the duct tape stuck against a wall.

Another one of Cattelan’s viral artworks was a solid 18-carat-gold toilet “entitled” America, valued at around $6 million. It had been first installed at New York’s Guggenheim in 2016 and was open to use by visitors. Later in 2019, it was stolen from the birthplace of Winston Churchill at Bleinheim Palace in England where it was being exhibited. It has never been found.

Top image caption: “Comedian,” a 2019 artwork by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, is seen in Seoul, South Korea.

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CNN’s Rob Picheta and Jacqui Palumbo contributed to this report.

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