Wall of $120,000 Duct-Taped Banana Artwork Vandalized With 'Epstein Didn't Kill Himself' Meme

The gallery wall that featured the $120,000 artwork of a duct-taped banana at Art Basel Miami has been vandalized with lipstick—a day after the banana itself was eaten by an artist.

Maurizio Cattelan's Comedian was one of the most visited exhibits at the international art fair in Miami Beach last week. Two pieces quickly sold to collectors for $120,000 and a third edition will be sold to a museum after the price was raised to $150,000, Artnet reported.

The Miami Herald reported that on Sunday afternoon, the wall where the work was displayed was vandalized with the phrase "Epstien (sic) didn't kill himself" written in red lipstick. Exhibitors later covered up the writing with a piece of white cardboard, according to the newspaper.

Roderick Webber, 46, was arrested on charges of criminal mischief after security guards called police to the scene just before 5 p.m. on Sunday, Miami Beach Police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez told Newsweek. "This is the gallery where anyone can do art, right?" Webber said after being confronted by a security guard, according to the Herald.

The incident came a day after the work, presented by the Paris-based Perrotin gallery, made headlines when artist David Datuna pulled the ripe banana off the wall and ate it in full view of visitors.

Datuna, a Georgian-American artist based in New York, posted video of himself eating the banana on social media, saying it was a work of performance art titled Hungry Artist and adding that the fruit was "very delicious." The Herald reported that Datuna was led away by security but not arrested.

According to the police report, Webber's hands were covered in "red" and he admitted to writing on the wall of the exhibit. "If someone can eat the $120,000 banana and not get arrested, why can't I write on the wall?" Webber yelled as he was escorted out of the convention center, the police report said. Webber was taken to the police station without incident, it added.

Webber told Newsweek that he also goes by "Epsteindidntkillhimself Webber" and is "fairly well known in certain circles" for his performance art. "As long as David Datuna pre-arranges a publicity stunt, he is described as an artist," Webber said.

"Anyone not belonging to their club is evidently a vandal. Furthermore, I had a discussion with one of the gallerists who said she wouldn't press charges because, (as I pointed out), Datuna has established precedent." But Webber said he was charged and had spent the night in jail.

Webber recently made headlines when he tried to register for a presidential bid in New Hampshire using the nickname "Epstein didn't kill himself," the Washington Examiner reported.

Asked about the misspelling of Epstein's name, Webber told Newsweek: "Memes demand nonsense. Art is no longer art—art is memes. Stupid can only be fought with more stupid. In a world where the idea of a banana is worth $120,000, it is our moral obligation to mock, ridicule and crank the stupid up to a thousand."

This guy decided to write on the banana wall LOL 😅🤦🏻‍♀️ #ArtBasel @OfficialJoelF pic.twitter.com/jjWDyugNuv

— sacha-stephanie (@sachasteph_) December 8, 2019

Sacha Medici shared a video showing the man's confrontation with security on Twitter, writing alongside it: "This guy decided to write on the banana wall LOL."

She said she had been walking through the Miami Beach Convention Center on Sunday, hoping to see Cattelan's Comedian. "When we got to the wall, it was white and empty," Medici told the Herald. "We saw this guy live-streaming... and he starts writing on the wall and I was like, 'No way, there's no way this guy is writing.'"

Katherine Wisniewski, a spokesperson for the Perrotin Gallery, told Newsweek that the gallery is not affiliated with Webber or Datuna, but said Cattelan's work was taken down on Sunday. "I can confirm that the banana was removed from our booth Sunday," she added.

After Datuna ate the original banana, the gallery insisted the work was not destroyed because the work is conceptual. "The banana is the idea," Lucien Terras, the director of museum relations for the gallery, told the Herald.

What is actually being bought is the Certificate of Authenticity for the work. Wisniewski told Newsweek: "Certificates of Authenticity are crucial in the buying and selling of conceptual art. Comedian has a COA that contains exact instructions for installation and authenticates that the work is by Maurizio Cattelan. Without a COA, a piece of conceptual artwork is nothing more than its material representation."

Medici added that visitors stared and filmed on their phones as the wall was vandalized. Some noted that the last name of Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire pedophile who was found dead in his jail cell while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges, had been spelled incorrectly, she said.

The phrase "Epstein didn't kill himself" has popped up regularly since his death in August as conspiracy theories have swirled challenging the medical examiner's determination that Epstein took his own life and fueled by Epstein's past ties to powerful figures, including Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Britain's Prince Andrew.

But The Associated Press reported that prosecutors have insisted there is ample evidence backing a medical examiner's determination that Epstein hanged himself, including video surveillance they say confirmed that nobody entered the area where Epstein was locked in his cell.

Asked if he believes that Epstein didn't kill himself, Webber told Newsweek: "I guess the brief answer is, there is no way to know for sure."

This article has been updated with comments from Webber, a spokesperson for the Perrotin gallery and the Miami Beach Police Department.

Maurizio Cattelan
A man takes a picture of Maurizio Cattelan's "Comedian" at Art Basel Miami 2019 at Miami Beach Convention Center on December 6, 2019 in Miami Beach, Florida. Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Editor's pick

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts