Companionship in the age of loneliness


Dear Artist,

Gone, 2019, for the exhibition Companionship in the age of Loneliness Bronze 7 metres by KAWS

Gone, 2019, for the exhibition Companionship in the Age of Loneliness
7 metres
by KAWS (b.1974)

While the art world goes bananas over a banana in Miami, Peter and I are strolling through another kind of shopping spree in Melbourne. Here, Brian Donnelly, a.k.a. KAWS, has mounted a survey of his output-to-date at the National Gallery of Victoria, packaging his beginnings as a ’90s New Jersey graffiti tagger, his “interventions” with bus stop posters, billboards and cartoon icons and his present-day collaborations with Japanese toy manufacturers, global clothing retailers, a luxury brand of cognac and Paris fashion week. If it’s an object of consumer lust, KAWS has x’ed out its eyes, re-appropriated it as art and re-merchandised it as a top echelon consumer good in his adjoining pop-up shop. Like Maurizio Cattelan’s duct-taped banana, KAWS’ re-contextualized commodities ride the coattails of the ubiquitous and deeply familiar and sell it back to us as art.

Anguish, 1878 oil on canvas 151.0 × 251.2 cm by August Friedrich Albrecht Schenck (1828-1901)

Anguish, 1878
oil on canvas
151.0 × 251.2 cm
by August Friedrich Albrecht Schenck (1828-1901)

Peter and I seek refuge upstairs, in the 19th Century European galleries. Here, the oils are salon-hung floor to ceiling and ooze brushwork and subject matter so intimate they dissolve the onslaught of emptiness from downstairs. “These works, too, are about the concerns of the day,” says P, pausing before Anguish, August Friedrich Albrecht Schenck’s 1878 masterwork depicting a mother ewe, anthropomorphized in devastation as she protects her dead lamb from a gathering murder of crows. The 141-year-difference between Schenck’s tormented ewe and KAWS’ 7-metre-tall, cast bronze Gone, an homage-in-muppets to Michelangelo’s Pieta, lies in the eyes — KAWS’ are all x’ed out.

Shearing the Rams oil on canvas 122.4 cm × 183.3 cm by Tom Roberts (1856-1931)

Shearing the Rams
oil on canvas
122.4 cm × 183.3 cm
by Tom Roberts (1856-1931)

Across the road are the galleries for Australian art, and we link hands to savour each individual attempt to capture an independent identity and style for Australia. Tom Roberts’ 1890 Shearing the Rams kicks up a dusty portrait of community, enterprise and pastoral life. Now hanging in this annex, a good walk from the KAWS spectacle, what once galvanized Australians with a mirror reflection of national values now merely enchants with a memory. Roberts, who migrated from England to Australia with his family at age 13 and later studied Impressionist and plein-air techniques in Europe, would return to Australia to organize plein-air trips into the Melbourne suburbs, including Box Hill and Heidelberg, to capture Australia’s unique conditions — her light, heat, vastness and the heroism of pioneer life. Along with other artists including Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton and Charles Condor, Roberts would connect Australia’s newest inhabitants to their environment — founding what would become known as the Heidelberg School and Australian Impressionism.



PS: “People who usually would not have been so interested in art wanted to see ‘the banana.’ It has opened the floodgates and morphed into an important debate about the value we place on works of art and objects in general.” (Miami art collectors Billy and Beatrice Cox, purchasers of Maurizio Cattelan’s Comedian.)

Comedian, 2019 banana and duct tape by Maurizio Cattelan (b. 1960)

Comedian, 2019
banana and duct tape
by Maurizio Cattelan (b. 1960)

Esoterica: On the final day of Art Basel Miami Beach 2019, Emmanuel Perrotin, founder of the gallery that sold three editions of Marizio Cattelan’s duct-taped banana Comedian for between $120,000.00 and $150,000.00 each, was forced to remove the installation due to uncontrollable crowds, risk to surrounding people and artwork and a recommendation from the fair itself. This was one day after David Datuna, identifying himself as a “hungry performance artist,” ate the artwork. Luckily, Perrotin kept a spare banana in his desk in case of just such an incident.

The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys. 

A Perfect Day, 1999 Gallerist Massimo De Carlo of Milan attached to the wall by duct tape by Maurizio Cattelan

A Perfect Day, 1999
Gallerist Massimo De Carlo of Milan attached to the wall by duct tape
by Maurizio Cattelan

“We are acutely aware of the blatant absurdity of the fact that Comedian is an otherwise inexpensive and perishable piece of produce and a couple of inches of duct tape. But when we saw the public debate it sparked about art and our society, we decided to purchase it. We knew we were taking a risk, but ultimately we sense that Cattelan’s banana will become an iconic historical object.” (Billy and Beatrice Cox)








  1. I am overjoyed that you were able to enjoy the great art in Australia.. thank you for sharing. On to the banana debate… let the sheep follow the sheep. I hope their ‘tasteful ‘investment in a print of the event brings them lots of satisfaction. (sarcasm??!)

  2. As I understand art, it’s meant to reflect the time you live in. Is not the banana ridiculous? Is not the time we live in ridiculous? The banana plays right into the minds of the people I know who think art is in the eye of the beholder and there are no artistic guidelines..sort of, if they like it, it’s good. If they hate it, it’s bad. And just like that, the banana becomes thought provoking! Is that not art? Perhaps, just the price is ridiculous.

    • Sometimes it gets pretty wild, but as an artist I believe that no rules apply. Once we adapt rules, art becomes a product for engineering. There are too many purists who cannot let the true meaning of art exist. They need a comfort zone with “how to” lessons to make “meaningful” art. It has taken me 84 years of chasing who I am to finally understand this. I came to a revelation, my art is about me and only me.
      Now to the “banana”. My advice is to enjoy it for what it is, and spend the money foolishly. Life is short.

  3. Oh the old “banana and duct tape” trick! I must say that I have enjoyed this intrigue with its broad reach of interest. All these questions that have been haunting painters for the last one hundred years or so – Is it art? What is art? Is it worth it? Is it a hoax? Are art collectors being fooled? Who decides if a work is real art or significant and does it matter?

    As a landscape painter, I sometimes let my thoughts scan over these questions as if they were driftwood floating off on a lazy out going tide. The questions are amusing, like the banana and duct tape, but not really all that interesting or helpful to the plein air or studio work taking place under the direction of my brush.

    For example, someone came into the gallery’s winter studio a week ago and after browsing the paintings asked “Is painting not rather something of the past? Maybe even dead?”

    They seemed serious in their question and I didn’t get the sense they were meaning to be insulting or antagonistic. So, I gave them a serious reply – “One might be led to believe this but I have not, as of yet, found this to be so. At least not if the number of gallery visitors and my painting sales are used as data to determine current interest.”

    After that, the visitor seemed content to browse longer. They asked insightful, inquiring questions about various paintings and left with a big smile, a skip in their step and a “thank you for your time” to me…

    and no one slipped on a banana peel on the way out! ;)

  4. All human accomplishment has the same origin, identically. Imagination is a force of nature. Is this not enough to make a person full of ecstasy? Imagination, imagination, imagination. It converts to actual. It sustains, it alters, it redeems!
    Henderson the Rain King (1959) [Viking/Penguin, 1984, ISBN 0-140-07269-1], ch. XVIII, p. 271

    Even absurdity is an imagining. As is everything, just imagine!

  5. I’m waiting for the toilet art to come back into vogue. It is truly a reflection of today’s “dumbing down” of all the arts. ToToday, celebs are famous for being famous, not that they’re talented. Reality shows are the rage, my neighbors next dodoor with all their family fights are just as interesting. Pop music has become “mall music” and even that is going “down the toilet”. It’s high time for a renaissance and for the greedy kings to clean their own houses and cook their own ffood

      • There are simply too many people pursuing the Duchamp model without his intelligence. Someone needs to tell them that ground has already been broken.

    • Your reference to toilet art brought back the memory of a critique in one of my early art classes. The teacher lavished his highest praise on a small sculpture consisting of a paper plate with a bed of plaster on it and a classic Coke bottle centered thereon. A condom was stretched over the bottle opening. Oh my…..

    • I was waiting for the toilet art to come back in the form of art from the man who ate the banana by serving the produced art on a silver platter with a price tag of a million dollars. Alas, he missed his opportunity.

      He would have had more connection to his art, used more energy and time in the production, one-upped the first ridiculous artwork, had some inherent value in the silver tray, and could have made a name for himself in our crazy art world.

      • Jeanne Rhea – Your idea is brilliant. Of course it is unthinkable and crass to use Cattelan’s banana to progress the work to its natural conclusion. I must warn you, that if you don’t mount an exhibition, using – an avocado perhaps, I will be sorely tempted.
        You’ll recognize me. I will be the one rolling in mountains of cash, atop reams of scholarly rhapsodizing torn from the latest, most intellectual art magazines.

    • For something new and incredible in music, watch online videos of the phenomenal 25-year old Kazakh singer, composer and musician Dimash Kudaibergen. Trained in opera, pop, and jazz, he combines these genres with traditional Kazakh music and an incredible six-octave vocal range to create a new sound that has gone global. I just attended his first solo concert in NY City. Fans from over 50 countries came to the sold-out concert. It was magical.

  6. Steven J Sweeney on

    Pleased to see the references to the Aussie artists (Roberts, McCubbin, Streeton, Condor). I was a “trailing spouse” during a 3-year residence in Sydney, and had not before been a painter. But to see those works in the galleries throughout the country made me want to “do that” (paint). As dad-at-home during this period, and bored after the kids were off to school, I joined a group of plein air painters who met every Wednesday at different locations around Sydney Harbor. I thought of it only as a way to get to know the coastal city, but I fell in love with painting. I went on to several years’ worth of training after I returned to the U.S., which continues to this day. My studio instructor, then editor of the Classical Realism Journal, challenged me to stop talking about Arthur Streeton and write an article for the magazine, which I happily did. It was a pleasure to introduce Streeton, the Heidelberg School (taking its name from Heidelberg, Victoria, now a suburb of Melbourne), and the other artists mentioned above to a wider and most appreciative audience. I’m not going to tell you that there aren’t galleries in Australia with the equivalent of bananas duct-taped to walls, but there was room for all in Oz.

  7. Recently heard reports that many banana varieties are on the verge of extinction with no solution at hand. Perhaps there really is more than meets the eye there. That banana probably lasted longer than Massimo De Carlo was able to hang duct-taped to the wall, before nature called. Many years ago I kiddingly threatened my three young sons with doing exactly that to them if they didn’t calm down. Too bad I didn’t realize it could have been a successful original work of art!

  8. Hans Hoffman said abstract art was doomed to fail. If this is true then that which follows has failed. It seems that art, before Marcel Duchamp, showed a studied continuity not found after Duchamp. This continuity is discussed in a book by Frank Stella. Art has cast about looking for a direction and has obviously not found it. Look at the abstract expressionists. A show was put together and funding was solicited. None of the larger sponsors of art and touring exhibitions would fund it. As per Hoffman, abstract expressionism has hit the wall and has realized a blind alley for its efforts. We are still casting about looking for direction and what we are seeing is the ridiculous and the clever the shocking but still no real direction. Do I know where it goes? Nope, not me, but I do know this type of “art”offends the arts. It opens us to ridicule, to disbelief and destroys our credibility in the market place. The only real benefit I can see is it has given us a bit more leeway in our search. In my opinion .

  9. All things are not equal. I am not talking about better or worse, but different. Conceptual art is an art of the intellect and can be consumed on that level. You have to know about context to understand what is contextualised. But it is punch line art. Once you get the joke, it is of no more interest. You can dispose of it. Then there is art made within a deeper place of soul or consciousness, it resonates in us in a place where the intellect cannot reach. This you do not tire of, because it is itself an embodiment of aliveness. Punch line art, the vaulted adoration of “idea”, has traction in a world where information has more currency than meaning. It does not offend me, I view it with the mild amusement of a dirty joke at the dinner table. But that is all. The impact is small and shallow. My heart craves more.

    • Catherine, your explanation and distinction between punch line conceptual art and artwork made within a deeper place of soul and consciousness is the best understanding of the situation I have come across. I am going to tuck this idea away for future reference. Like you, I am not offend and only slightly amused…. and yes, for so many, our heart craves more. But it is how to make sense of it all that was puzzling. Thank you for this!

  10. Luisa Wohlgroth on

    I took a white board,pasted a banana on it with gray duct tape, and put it on the street ouside our house with a sign: FREE help yourselves! It disappeared immediately…good idea???

    • Luisa, you stole my thunder! That is exactly what I was conjuring up in my mind to do at my 2020 summer outdoor art gallery! And I will probably still do it just for fun. It will be interesting to see if any of my ‘patrons’ have heard of Cattelan’s Comedian.

      In the meantime, I totally enjoyed this article and in particular, all of the comments that it spawned, Sara. The members of this forum are truly of the art intelligentsia in my books. You rock!



Leave A Reply

Featured Workshop

3rd Annual Art Retreat for Women in San Miguel de Allende
April 5, 2020 to April 11, 2020


Join painter/author Ellie Harold in sunny Mexico for a week of immersion in a facilitated discovery of your deepest and most essential artist self. If you’re feeling blocked, thwarted or simply longing for a more meaningful expression, the retreat is a unique opportunity to focus on your life/art purpose, discover new directions and explore next steps. You’ll enjoy your own room in the charming Casa de la Noche in San Miguel’s Historic Centro district, painting and writing (with materials provided), guided reflections and focused discussion with plenty of time to explore the color and culture of this vibrant art city. Created with the needs of mature women in mind, this retreat focuses on process rather than product and is for both experienced and novice art-makers. Limited to 12. Register by November 30 to receive Early Bird free shuttle. One Discounted Spot Now Open! Click here for a full description, photos and testimonials from past participants. preparing chappaathi
oil painting

Featured Artist

I, Ramya Sadasivam, have been practicing art since 2006. I so love to portray Indian culture, customs, day to day chores of the hard-working laborers, happy village life and life of women. I love to capture the difference in values between the shadows and bright light and also I like to capture genuine emotion.


Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.