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The guy who ate a $120,000 banana in an art museum says he was just hungry

An iteration of Maurizio Cattelan's "Comedian" has previously sold for $120,000, most famously at Art Basel Miami in 2019. A college student who recently viewed the art in a Seoul museum said he ate the banana after skipping breakfast.
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An iteration of Maurizio Cattelan's "Comedian" has previously sold for $120,000, most famously at Art Basel Miami in 2019. A college student who recently viewed the art in a Seoul museum said he ate the banana after skipping breakfast.

Installations by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan are famously provocative, but his signature work — a banana taped to a wall — fell prey to a basic impulse: the hunger it provoked in a South Korean college student.

The art in question, Comedian, is a (frequently replaced) duct-taped banana that is meant to evoke everything from Charlie Chaplin's slapstick comedy to the fruit's status as an emblem of global trade.

It spoke to Noh Huyn-soo in simpler terms, reminding him that he had skipped breakfast that morning. So as his visit to Seoul's Leeum Museum of Art stretched past noon late last week, Noh seized the yellow fruit and ate it, ignoring the alarmed cry of a museum staffer.

It took Noh around 1 minute to yank the banana and eat it. When he was done, he reattached the peel to its spot on the wall.

Noh told the museum that he ate the art because he was hungry, according to Korean public broadcaster KBS, which aired a video of his actions that was recorded by his friend.

But Noh, who studies aesthetics and religion at Seoul National University, also opined about the artist's intent in an interview with KBS, asking if the fruit — which is replaced every few days, to keep the installation looking fresh — is meant to be eaten.

Noh also suggested his own actions might qualify as art, rather than a mere transgression, as he transformed Cattelan's work and put it back on display.

The Noh drama lasted only around 30 minutes, as museum workers installed a second banana to restore Cattelan's vision.

The museum won't pursue Noh for any damages, according to Korean news outlets. Broadcaster MBC cites staff as saying that when the artist was told about the purloined banana, his replied that it wasn't a problem.

Comedian is the centerpiece of a large exhibition of Cattelan's art at the Leeum that's going on through July. The banana art is even emblazoned on a special coffee cup to herald the 38 works.

Previous iterations of Comedian have sold for $120,000 — including one in 2019 that was promptly eaten by another artist at Art Basel in Miami Beach. Like Noh, that art-eater quickly proclaimed his consumption to be a work of art in itself.

Another Cattelan piece titled America — a fully functional toilet cast in 18-karat gold — drew headlines when it was put on display (and into use) in the Guggenheim. But the golden throne was stolen in 2019 — days after it was installed in England's Blenheim Palace — the birthplace of Winston Churchill and hasn't been recovered.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.