Cover image of the review
Installation view of Maurizio Cattelan’s Comedian on display in NGV Triennial from 3 December 2023 to 7 April 2024 at NGV International, Melbourne. Photo: Sean Fennessy

Maurizio Cattelan, Comedian (2019)

30 Mar 2024
National Gallery of Victoria | NGV International 3 Dec - 7 Apr 2024

It’s a photograph of people taking a photo of a banana. And underneath, it shows the number of people who have liked the photo.

Why are people taking a photo? To prove they’ve seen the banana. We might even say that they did not see the banana, or at least have no proof that they saw the banana, until they took a photo of it. But then, of course, in another way, it is not they who are actually seeing the banana, but the camera in their phone. The banana has slipped away, underfoot as it were, and all there is is the photo. The banana has become just a photograph.

And then there are the likes down the bottom. In a way, it doesn’t matter what is liked or why it is liked. It’s just that it is liked. The likes take the place of the thing itself. And that’s the way it is with everything nowadays. Let’s not be snobbish. Click onto a “serious” academic article, even in a “serious” refereed journal, and you’ll find on the page before you’ve even started reading the number of people who have read it—well, opened the page containing the article—before you. And you know that, whatever you actually think of the article, your opening the page will contribute to that number and make it seem more important than another with a lower number. (And, let’s face it, you probably only opened the page in the first place because of the number of people who have already done so.) Even the number of times an article is cited—the kind of thing universities look at when they assess the “impact” of research—does not take into account whether the citation is positive or negative, properly understanding or not. It’s only the number. And universities certainly don’t anymore have the time or desire to evaluate seriously the “quality” of their research. No one has the ability or authority to do that anymore, and any criteria they would bring to bear upon the exercise would only be endlessly disputed.

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