When is modern art just a con?

I have just listened to an art ‘critic’ defending the artistic merit of a piece of modern art that was just sold for over $100k in Miami. The piece of so called ‘art’ comprised a banana (the real thing, not a painting of a banana) attached to a wall using a piece of gaffa tape. The $100k purchased the banana and the piece of gaffa tape - I hasten to add that the wall was not part of the deal.

Would anyone on this forum claim that this item had any artistic merit whatsoever, and just how ridiculous does art have to be before it is recognized for what it is in quite a few cases - simply a worthless fraud?

What about the Tate Modern ‘pile of bricks’, the blank canvasses or Damien Hirst’s sheep in formaldehyde. Worthy pieces of art or self indulgent and worthless?

I opt for the latter in each of these particular cases. More fool the person who actually paid over $100k for the banana, and as far as I am concerned more contempt for the so called ‘art critics’ who help to promote the fraud!

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Fair play to the artists for parting fools from their money though!


I must confess I am not a huge lover of modern art but do like some styles, for example Banksy works.
Key point I think is that some art is meant to be “thought provoking”. You posting here suggests it might have achieved this to some level, even if not to the value paid.

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Totally agree on every aspect Hmack.

We are not the fools, but there seem to be an awful lot of pompous fools in the world of art.

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I certainly would not apply the term ‘con’ to all modern art. I do for example admire quite a bit of Banksy’s work. It’s just that for me as a casual ‘admirer’ of ‘art’, there are certain limits before works such as those I mentioned above become nothing but senseless and self indulgent nothingness. The main focus of my contempt is probably directed at the critics who eulogise about these works as though they have real merit.

As a generalisation I don’t like modern art and believe some of it is a con - though whether it is the consumer, or the art world that is being conned I sometimes wonder…

However, learing that, for example, Picasso could paint “properly’ before branching out did rather challenge my views.

I think in reality I just don’t understand modern art - so cannot pass judgement, other than whether or not I like, which in general I don’t.


I’m not sure any of it can be dismissed as a worthless fraud. I find modern art interesting, sometimes great and sometimes simply interesting. Gavin Turk’s Pop, Mark Quinn’s Blood Head, Tracey Emin’s bed, the room filled with oil. To simply dismiss the banana on the wall as junk is missing the point, the point is the event and the conversation and I imagine that’s what the buyer wants. People walk around the exhibitions saying ‘that’s rubbish, I could do that’ - I’ve heard it frequently - but the point is that they didn’t, and probably couldn’t. Agnes Varda’s greenhouse made from 35mm film is amazing when you stumble across it in Chaumont. To simply dismiss this stuff suggests a closed mind. One may not like it but that doesn’t make it rubbish. I cannot abide prog but that doesn’t mean it’s junk. It’s the same with art. Each to their own.


About 20 years ago, i visited the Tate Modern art gallery in London.
In one area of the gallery i found the exhibits were IMO particularly lacking in interest and not to mention devoid of any true artistic endeavour or integrity, and feeling more than slightly bored i stood still for a while and turned by attention to observing the other visitors who were perusing the works on display, and what i noticed was, they entered this room and after briefly looking looking about all over they settled their attention on a piece of work bracketed some 3 foot above the floor level, and after spending some time [typically 30 seconds or so] examining this bright eye catching tomato red exhibit; they cunningly and positively identified the subject matter as a public buildings regulation approved fire extinguisher. This, for a while, fascinated them far more than any other work in the room.


The artist in question Maurizio Cattelan, has been doing this sort of thing for a while. Although his other stuff is usually more substantial and has obvious merit of some hard work involved.
That banana looks like a big con, and like the shredded Banksy will be utter worthless in short order.
In all probability it was bought by an accomplice. Using funds all ready in useage paid from other works sold by Maurizio. Like top footballers, nothing keeps up their monetary worth more than someone paying it !!


Art is in the eye of the beholder, to plagiarise a well known saying.

I quite like the series of fine art paintings by Canadian artist Rob Shoe Glenesk, such as the one posted above from his “From Above” collection. We have a few prints of his work on our walls both over here and over there.

OTOH, I really did enjoy the banana that I ate for breakfast this morning. Mrs D has gaffer taped another one to the wall in our hallway ready for tomorrow. Not sure that I can afford it anymore !


BTW, I’m struggling with the definition of “modern art”

Rob has been painting for about the past 25 years and is alive and well.

Picasso is long-gone.

I appreciate the “modern art” isn’t the same as “art that has recently been painted”, but I am struggling with an all-enbracing definition.

I’d recommend reading the magnificent Story of Art by Ernst Gombrich. It’s not perfect but it’s the best there is and it casts the original post in a very different light. I certainly never looked at any art in the same light after reading it.

Some thoughts to ponder.

Art is often distinguished from craft and yet most great artists/painters learnt a craft. Primitive art is often held in more esteem than so-called high art. A lack of craft does not automatically reduce the value of the art.

What specifically makes the act of wandering round a gallery looking at pictures of people you’ll never meet or things you may never see more valid a pastime than looking at a banana glued to a wall? Could the value be exactly the same for different people? How could you then say one was somehow less valid?

Might the posing of that very question have been at the very least some of the point of this specific piece! If you’re looking at a piece of art and it stirs not a single question within you then you may have completely missed the point.

People eulogise the art of vinyl covers. Some people destroy them over many years if wear and joy which brought them great joy. Some people skin up on them. Some people do all three. Which one is the least valid?

Long before I knew of the above book I heard the man talk and one of my son’s godparents knew him personally.

Also worth a brief listen to elements of https://www.philosophytalk.org/shows/value-art

Never was the phrase “the price of everything but the value of nothing” more thought provokingly appropriate.


What I found really amusing was the fact that the banana has to be changed every couple of weeks. So it was 100k for some gaffa tape essentially. I’ve got loads of the stuff

No it really isn’t!

Portraying a banana on the wall (or for that matter a pile of bricks on the floor) as a piece of art is asinine and just plain ludicrous. There really is no other way to look at it. The buyer may want to court conversation, but I am afraid the only topic of conversation from the vast majority of people will be to question his or her sanity.

If feeling this way about a piece of fruit and gaffa tape demonstrates that I have a closed mind to art, then so be it. I plead guilty.

And yes - I really could have done that! I could also suspend a toilet seat from the ceiling, but I am not Yayoi Kusama or Carl Andre so my work could not possible have any merit whatsoever. If I was, then ……?

Edit: Oops - got the artist’s name wrong. As TOBYJUG has pointed out, the artist ‘responsible’ for the banana is in fact Maurizio Cattelan. Many apologies to Yayoi Kusama who appears to be a ‘genuine’ artist!

I would hazard a guess that to the vast majority of people, one could be justified in stating that a banana glued to a wall is not ‘art’. If Cattelan’s next work happens to be an apple glued to the wall, would that be equally valid? Some might claim that the idea is not new, but then surely an apple is not a banana? In fact, the basis is there for an entire exhibition of Cattelan’s ‘fruit on wall’ art series. He could probably knock them off quite quickly - perhaps a whole new work of art each month.

I agree that a lack of craft does not automatically reduce the intrinsic merit of art. However, a banana glued to the wall in my opinion lacks an awful lot more than just craft.

I call Marcel Duchamp to the stand: that urinal he hung up is to blame!

The artist can pull our eye to what we do not see in commonplace objects. Carl Andre and his bricks showed us (alright, me then…) how such everyday surroundings harbour subtle (and not so) shading and contrasts. I often look in delight at the orangey/red/tan/yellow bricks of our 1908-built flat. They’re not in a museum, but I think that was partly Andre’s point.
I don’t like all ‘modern’ art by any stretch, but some of it engages and questions my perception.

As for the price attached by the art cognoscenti…it’s a club. Some of us will pay thousands for stranded copper wrapped in rubber or fabric. Look where we worship, to quote Jim Morrison :slight_smile:

Most think us completely mad/stupid or as pretentious.

As for the banana? Warhol got there first.


When I read The Story of Art in 1980 I wrote to Ernst Gombrich to say how his book had inspired me.

He wrote me a 2 page handwritten very encouraging letter, which I still have in a file of old letters.


When I was at art school, there was a chap in my year who nailed a banana skin onto the wall.
We were all impressed, and this was some 20 odd years ago. So I am pretty ahead of the curve.
Although when it came to us and tutors all assembled around to critique it, we all felt disappointed as the young chap just said “well, it’s a banana skin nailed to the wall”

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