No, contemporary art is not meaningless !

Contemporary art is often considered provocative and incomprehensible.

Indeed, isn’t taping a (real) banana to a wall and buying it for €120,000 pure provocation? Maurizio Cattelan’s “The Comedian”, presented at the Art Basel contemporary art fair in Miami by the Perrotin gallery, is certainly difficult to accept as a work of art.

une banane scotchée au mur par du ruban adhésif argenté
The comedian, par Maurizio Cattelan

Maurizio Cattelan's banana, provocation but a work of art

Especially since “The Comedian” is not even unique, as it was made in five copies… and one of the bananas was taken down and eaten on the gallery’s stand by another artist, David Datuma!

Destroying a work of art worth 120 000€ should be punishable by a prison sentence? Well, no! David Datuma declared on his Instagram account that it was “delicious”, the post was relayed by the New York Times and in the end, in a (presumably) purely artistic gesture, the Perottin gallery did not press charges.

In short, the banana has become a legend and its value on the art market is now said to be over €150,000…

Art doesn't care about good taste !

Let’s be clear, Artistes Actuels does not shout about anything because we know that art is complex and has nothing to do with categories, definitions and good taste !

“The great enemy of art is good taste”  Marcel Duchamp

Urinoir en céramique de 1917 avec un graffitti
Ready-made, Marcel Duchamp, 1917
photo en noir et blanc d'une rue vide, un piéton au loin et un homme qui plonge d'un mur au premier plan
Le saut dans le vide, Yves Klein, 1960
Jeune femme au cheveux longs roux, pull noir, manchette à plumes rose tire de face à la carabine sur la représentation d'un homme (chemise et cravate, tete en cible)
Tirs, de Niki Saint Phalle, 1961. extrait

Visual artists have always challenged convention

Gustave Courbet on the Facebook test

For example, Gustave Courbet painted “The Origin of the World” in 1866, commissioned by the Ottoman diplomat Khalil Chèrif Pacha, and it was not until 1988 that this painting, which realistically depicts a woman’s sex, was shown to the public for the first time. We see in these 122 years of waiting the conservatism of a part of the society. However, we are not unaware that, in the face of thousands of phalluses in bronze and oil, the female sex is still taboo today. It is for Facebook, whose algorithms censored “The Origin of the World” in 2011. It is also taboo for a large part of the world which, veiling the woman, cannot obviously admit to admiring her vulva. 

Everyday objects and life gestures

Similarly, Marcel Duchamp exhibited a urinal in 1917. This ‘ready-made’, a simple manufactured object that becomes a work of art by the artist’s own choice, shakes up the art world for good and opens up new perspectives. We see in it a decisive reflection on what a work of art is.  

In 1945, Jean Dubuffet called the artistic creations of the “marginalised” “Art brut”. In so doing, he acknowledged that they belonged to the art world at a time when only “learned art” (with the exception of the naïve) had the right to be quoted. Dubuffet did not stop there, since he himself was able to feed off this “Art brut”, thus becoming the precursor of a major artistic evolution. 

L'origine du monde, Gustave Courbet, 1866
Dirty corner, Anish Kapoor- photo
Henri Michaux acteur japonais, Jean Dubuffet, 1946

Demands for action

When Niki de Saint Phalle fired a rifle at a board in 1963, she was exorcising the sexual violence of which she had been a victim as a child: “I shot: at Daddy, at all the men, the little ones, the big ones, the important ones, the fat ones, my brother, society… I shot because I was fascinated to see the board bleed and die. On your marks! Ready! Fire! We see in this a strong and intimate artistic gesture.

When Yves Klein threw himself into the void from the top of a wall in 1960, his single gesture, immortalized by a photo “Le saut dans le vide”, became a work of art. We see the artistic continuity of the work of the “painter of space” who was ready to risk his life for his art.

In 1987, Andres Serrano created “Piss Christ”, which takes the form of a photograph of a crucifix immersed in the artist’s urine and blood. In 2011, the work provoked a thousand people to march against it for its removal from an exhibition in Avignon. It was vandalised shortly afterwards. We see in it an echo of the painful way of the cross of Christ.  

In 2015, Anish Kapoor presented “Dirty Corner” in the gardens of the Château de Versailles. The monumental sculpture, which perhaps evokes a vagina, arouses the wrath of ‘traditionalist Catholic’ circles. It too has been vandalised several times. We see it as a feminist demand in the former place of absolute male power.

Our subjectivity as a guide ?

So yes, a taped banana is art, even if (and because) our common sense is upset by the ephemeral nature of the work. We see it as a reflection on what makes a work of art valuable, in this case its certificate of authenticity and its legend.

Our contemporary art choice

Artistes Actuels choisit “l’art qui dévore la vie” qu’il soit violent ou poétique. Nous choisissons l’art des « barbares, des réfractaires, des résistants, des récalcitrants, et des durs à peindre (1)»

(1) Christian Noorbergen in Artension, Hors série N°23 « L’expressionnisme aujourd’hui »   

The art of today that we choose is also the art of the naive, the self-taught and the singular, or the art of poets, dreamers, the imaginary and the healers of life’s pains.

We are guided only by our subjectivity as art lovers and collectors. In each case we meet the artists and photograph or film their work.  

What a pleasure to listen to them and to watch them work. Simply amazed.  

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