In 2019, an artwork called Comedian—which featured a banana taped to a wall—was all the rage. Created by Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan, the piece quickly went viral at Art Basel Miami Beach. Several versions of the piece eventually sold for over $100,000.
But now, in a copyright infringement suit, artist Joe Morford is claiming that Cattelan borrowed from one of his own pieces, reports Bloomberg Law’s Isaiah Poritz. Morford registered his piece, Banana & Orange, with the Copyright Office in 2000.
Cattelan’s lawyers have argued that fruits and duct tape can’t be copyrighted, and that no evidence exists suggesting that Cattelan saw Morford’s work, per the Miami Herald’s Amanda Rosa. Still, United States District Judge Robert Scola denied a motion to dismiss the case.
“Thankfully for the Court, the question of whether a banana taped to a wall can be art is more a metaphysical question than a legal one,” writes Scola in his ruling. “But the legal question before the Court may be just as difficult—did Morford sufficiently allege that Cattelan’s banana infringes his banana?”
Banana & Orange is what it sounds like: It consists of a banana and an orange, both duct-taped to a green background. The orange is taped horizontally, while the banana is taped diagonally. The banana’s alignment is nearly identical to that of the banana in Comedian.
Morford understands he can’t copyright the idea of taping a banana to a wall, writes the Miami Herald. Instead, he argues that others are not allowed to claim the idea as “their own original artwork.”
Additionally, Morford says that Cattelan had ample opportunity to see Banana & Orange; it had been posted on YouTube since 2008, on Facebook since 2015, and on his personal website since 2016, Bloomberg Law writes. Morford is seeking damages over $390,000, the combined total that the three editions of Comedian sold for, per CNN’s Jacqui Palumbo.
This isn’t the only legal battle Cattelan has faced in recent months. A French court recently dismissed a claim from sculptor Daniel Druet, who argued that he should be recognized as the creator of nine wax sculptures Cattelan commissioned from him, Artnet’s Devorah Lauter reports.
Cattelan has gained notoriety for a number of his pieces—among them the 18-karat gold toilet titled America that drew two-hour-long lines at the Guggenheim—but none have inspired such a frenzy as Comedian. Memes abounded about the piece: Popeyes partnered with Miami’s San Paul Gallery Urban Art to present a chicken sandwich taped to the wall. One anonymous copycat duct-taped a banana to what appears to be the walls of a New York subway station.
The banana even featured in labor protests by Miami janitors, who wore bananas taped to their shirts, the Miami New Times’ Manuel Madrid wrote in 2019.
“How much are we worth?” janitor Felipa Cardenas asked the Miami New Times. “A banana is worth more than us, apparently.”
Ultimately, the banana frenzy came to a close after artist David Datuna took the banana from the wall and ate it, per Artnet’s Javier Pes. Though there were backup bananas on hand, the artwork’s dealer decided to remove the piece as the large crowds coming to see it were becoming a safety concern. (Eventually, the Guggenheim acquired a version of the installation.)
“A banana taped to a wall may not embody human creativity, but it may evoke some feelings, good or bad,” Scola writes in his ruling. “In any event, a banana taped to a wall recalls Marshall McLuhan’s definition of art—‘anything you can get away with.’”