When Art is Ripe for Consumption

Babak Shamsi Edmonds Lawyer

In late April 2023, South Korean college student, Noh Huyn-soo shocked the art world by eating a famous art installation (the “Comedian”)created by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. Yes, he ate the installation – the “installation” being a banana taped to a wall in Seoul’s Leeum Museum of Art. His elaborate art heist consisted of removing the banana from the wall, peeling it, eating it, and taping the banana peel back onto the wall. The episode lasted approximately half an hour.

Noh Huyn-soo explained that: (a) he had skipped breakfast and needed nourishment; (b) his own actions could be considered art as well since he “transformed” the installation and put it back on display; and (c) he questioned whether eating the banana constituted the most appropriate action given its status as a fruit. Each of these arguments has merit, especially the third point, as the museum had a policy of replacing the banana every few days to keep it fresh. Perhaps eating the banana was preferable to throwing it away.

Maurizio Cattelan himself reacted to the culinary attack by stating “it wasn’t a problem.” Perhaps he felt unconcerned because another artist had eaten a previous iteration of Comedian in Miami Beach at Art Basel. Given that the Comedian has sold for $120,000 in the past, these hunger attacks do beg the question of what damages the museums have suffered from the art being ripe for consumption. Luckily, given the consistent replaceability of bananas generally, the Leeum Museum of Art graciously decided not to press charges against Noh Huyn-soo.

While certainly a humorous story, the events that transpired do teach us a valuable lesson to remember in litigation, establishing liability is only half the battle. Noh Huyn-soo certainly ate the banana, but the museum had to consider its damages. While the installation has gone to sale for high value in the past, the museum also had a policy of repeatedly replacing the banana and could easily mitigate its damages by putting up a new banana. Of course, suing the art patron for eating the banana also does not look very good.

In litigation, a complainant must establish liability, but must also establish damages as the second half of the battle. Even when a court finds a defendant liable for an action, the court will direct its next question back to the plaintiff: “What are your damages?” The attorneys at Beresford Booth can help potential litigants understand not only issues of liability, but also, the appropriate measure of damages incurred.

If you, or someone you know, has recently ingested a famous art installation, the lawyers at Beresford Booth are very likely not able to assist you, and depending on the age, condition, and substance of the art ingested, a physician may serve you far better. You may need to call 911. However, if you need assistance with a variety of civil matters, including family law, adoption, real estate, business, estate planning, and of course, civil litigation, the lawyers at Beresford Booth remain prepared and available to assist you.

To Learn More about When Art is Ripe for Consumption, please do not hesitate to contact us at info@beresfordlaw.com or by phone (425) 776-4100 for assistance.

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