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Recently, there was a man who ate a banana that was part of an art exposition in New York. The piece of art in question featured a banana taped to a wall and was priced at 120,000$. As far as I know, the artist never pressed charges and they are not suing either for vandalism.

However, it got me fairly curious as to how a judge would decide damages if this were to go to court. When it comes to art, the valuation, at least in my opinion, often seems to be extraordinary. I think any reasonable person would come to a deduction that a banana taped to a wall wouldn't be worth 120,000$ but I also understand that some people with extraordinary means can afford to pay these sums. I also believe the reason the man ate the banana was to send a similar message : it's just a banana taped to a wall.

Now there are some pieces of art that I think would justify it's costs such as paintings from Rembrandt or Vermeer that dates from hundreds of years ago. But when it comes to such simple artwork, could a man really be forced to pay anything close to it's valuation as damages if he were to damage the artwork? In this case the banana could even be replaced. But what about cases when it's not easily replaceable? Is it more valuable because a famous person taped the banana to a wall?

Thank you!

P.S. : I am not a student of lawyer or a lawyer. I am simply a man with a curious mind and this question has been itching me for sometime.

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Had the artist valued it at $120,000 and recieved payment for the value? Then likely the compensation to the purchaser will be required to make recompense... though the fact that the defendent gave the artist a Banana to replace the consumed one would likely be considered replacing the damages (since this would arguably be an "art restoration" which would be what would be the way the art would be restored to it's pre-vandalized state so...).

Since the artist refused to charge, likely he's realizing he is getting more recognition for his "art" from this story and decided it was worth it (and now every preppy uptight college kid is gonna tape fruit to their walls).

Ultimately though, I'm not aware of the laws of "eating art" and this may be an original warning as I'm not sure the problem ever came up... so we might not have case law to handle this. Were I the judge, I would back to the tune of the repaying a banana to the person who owns the piece. If no on one bought it, then the Art is worth the price of a Banana... if some one has bought it, then the replacement Naner is still just as the owners should have insured the piece for the paid value (and I'll point out that if the trouble was because it sounds like an insurance scam, that's why I'm not valuing it at $120,000. They certainly should have known somebody would get cheeky and eat the Banana... hell, when I heard of the piece, my first thought was "What if someone eats it" and was surprised the news story went that route.).

All this would be predicate on finding a judge who would stop laughing at the ludicrous concpet of paying that much for a banana and tape (or crying because that is certainly several tens of thousands of dollars more than the judge's salary).

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  • Hmm. I would think the decision would be based on the fair market value of the artwork, which in this case is mostly about its provenance: who created it, where it's been exhibited, etc. If the vandal provides a replacement banana, or even creates an object physically identical to the original, it will not have the same fair market value, because it wasn't created by the same artist, and it isn't the same banana that was admired by the public. So I don't think the replacement banana has made the artist whole, by any means. – Nate Eldredge Dec 11 '19 at 18:06
  • There surely must have been many past cases where a valuable object was damaged or destroyed, where a physically identical replacement wouldn't have the same value. I don't see how the "eating" makes this case legally unique. – Nate Eldredge Dec 11 '19 at 18:08
  • In this particular place, the artist intended the banana to be replaced from time to time (any biologists here who know what happens to a banana after months or years? And do we really want to know?) so eating and then replacing the banana didn't change the artwork. – gnasher729 Dec 11 '19 at 22:25
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The same way they deal with every other dispute about valuing damages

Courts are called upon in the overwhelming majority of cases to value things so that damages can be awarded: art, construction work, vehicle damage, pollution, future earnings, pain and suffering, time lost due to illegal incarceration etc. Quite often the plaintiff(s) and defendant(s) will have differing views on their value.

Valuing this stuff is hard: that doesn’t mean that courts get to avoid doing it. They do it by considering and weighing the (usually expert) evidence, valuing it and making a decision.

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