2 Artists Tape Banana to Wall, and Now It's in Federal Court

Odd legal fight is between American artist Joe Morford and Italian Maurizio Cattelan
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 22, 2022 9:20 AM CDT
One Artist Sues Another Over a Duct-Taped Banana
A screenshot of Maurizio Cattelan's duct-taped banana, at an art fair.   (YouTube/The Art Assignment)

It's not often the worlds of art, the law, and duct-taped fruit intersect, but here we are. A California artist named Joe Morford is suing Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, claiming that Cattelan stole his idea about taping a banana to a wall, reports the Guardian. Last month, a federal judge in Florida waded into the dispute and rejected Cattelan's request to toss the suit, per CNN. If this is ringing vague bells, it's because Cattelan made big headlines a few years ago when he affixed an ordinary banana to a wall with duct tape at an art exhibit in Miami and sold three versions of it for an astonishing $390,000.

The feat caught the attention of Morford. "I did this in 2000," he wrote on Facebook, including an image as proof. "But some dude steals my junk and pimps it for 120K+ in 2019. Plagiarism much?" Federal judge Robert Scola is now tasked with deciding whether Cattelan did indeed steal the idea, per Artnet News. The "question of whether a banana taped to a wall can be art is more a metaphysical question than a legal one," he wrote in allowing the suit to proceed. "But the legal question before the court may be just as difficult—did Morford sufficiently allege that Cattelan's banana infringes his banana?"

Cattelan argues that his work, called "Comedian," is different enough from Morford's "Banana & Orange"—as the name suggests, Morford also duct-taped an orange to a wall as part of his piece—and rejects the idea that anyone can copyright a taped banana. However, the judge isn't so sure about all aspects of that argument. "Morford cannot claim copyright in the idea of a banana taped to a wall," he mused, but "Morford may be able to claim copyright in the expression of that idea." Morford is seeking $390,000 in damage, plus court costs. (Fun fact: Somebody ate one of Cattelan's bananas.)

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