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Banana Taped to Wall Artwork Eaten at South Korean Museum

Aug 06, 2023

Look, if you hang some fruit in a museum, it's going to get eaten.

Jelisa Castrodale has been a staff writer with Food & Wine since 2019.

Cindy Ord / Getty Images

Earlier this year, the Leeum Museum of Art in Seoul, South Korea debuted "WE," an exhibition of 38 works by Maurizio Cattelan, the provocative Italian visual artist. But earlier this week, the number of pieces in that career-spanning retrospective dropped to 37 for about half an hour after a hungry visitor ate one of them.

Noh Hyun-soo, a student at Seoul National University, helped himself to an artwork called "Comedian," which consisted of a banana that was duct-taped to the museum's wall. After he peeled and ate the banana, Noh pulled the tape back and put the now-empty peel back in its place. In a video of the incident, several other people in the gallery shouted at Noh as he approached the banana, and the room fell silent as he took his first bite.

When asked why he ate the artwork, Noh couldn't have been more casual about it. "I didn't eat breakfast, so I ate it because I was hungry," he said, according to Korean broadcaster KBS. In a followup phone call with the outlet, Noh said that he considered Cattelan's art to be "a rebellion against a certain authority," and believed that maybe his own actions could be "another rebellion against rebellion."

After about 30 minutes, museum staffers replaced the banana peel with an uneaten banana. (Under normal circumstances, the banana is replaced with a fresh one every two to three days.) A museum spokesperson told CNN that Cattelan was told about what happened to the artwork, but "he didn't have any reaction to it."

That could’ve been because this has happened before. Cattelan debuted "Comedian" at Art Basel Miami in 2019, and it promptly sold for $120,000. As did a second version, and a third was priced at $150,000 but that one was eaten by artist David Datuna. (He said that his spontaneous snack was a performance piece called "Hungry Artist.")

"I began to think: ‘What can I do with this banana? How can I bring it to yet another level?’ And how to do it also with comedy?" Datuna said during an interview with The Guardian. "So I ate the banana. It is something deeper."

The Cattelan exhibition at the Leeum Museum is scheduled to run through July 16. If you plan on checking it out, you might want to pack a snack, just in case the art starts making you hungry.