Maurizio Cattelan has often been called the art world’s “enfant terrible”, and it seems that despite his semi-retired status, the artist is still living up to his reputation.
For his most recent work titled Comedian, Cattelan has duct-taped a banana to the wall of the Perrotin Gallery booth at Art Basel Miami Beach, a sprawling art fair held annually in the coastal city.
The price for this installation piece? $120,000.
Comedian comes in three editions, all available for purchase. The first two were sold on opening day, both to French collectors. Following this success, gallerist Emmanuel Perrotin and Cattelan agreed via a text message exchange to up the price to $150,000 for the last piece. The two also decided that they wanted the third edition to go to a museum, and the gallerist claims that two institutions are already eyeing it up.
There are also two artist's proofs, though Vulture has reported that the artist already ate one of them.
The work's materials are nothing special – the banana was bought at a local Miami supermarket – but what does make the pieces valuable is the artist's certificate of authenticity. Cattelan is said to have been working on the idea for a year, casting versions in bronze and resin before finally deciding to use the real thing. He told ArtNet, "Wherever I was traveling I had this banana on the wall. I couldn't figure out how to finish it… In the end, one day I woke up and I said 'the banana is supposed to be a banana.'"
Since the sales, the work has caught the public’s attention, baffling some and angering others. The work has also sparked discussions about art market pricing and how contemporary art is defined. Is Cattelan just playing a trick on us? Is he bringing our attention to the somewhat frivolous, illogical nature of art and the art market? Or is this some larger artistic statement?
Given its price tag and its constitution, Comedian may seem like a joke, as though the artist is pushing boundaries just to see what he can get away with. Though Perrotin, whose gallery has represented the artist for 27 years, is quick to come to his defence, stating that every detail of the work has been taken into account, including the shape of the banana, the angle of its placement and its specific position in the booth.
It is worth noting that seeing a Cattelan work at an art fair is a rare instance, and the artist has produced little over the last few years. He does maintain an Instagram page, where he posts only one picture on his profile at any given time, deleting a previous post as he uploads another.
Though the artist has not revealed the meaning of Comedian, it does fit with his style, which incorporates humour with a Duchampian flair. In 2016, Cattelan created his perhaps most famous work – America, an 18-carat solid gold functioning toilet installed inside New York's Solomon R Guggenheim museum's bathrooms. By 2017, over 100,000 have visited the piece, according the museum's website.
Made of over 100 kilos of gold, the artwork has an estimated value of $6 million. In September, America was stolen from the Blenheim Palace in the UK, where it was on loan for an exhibition. Two men were arrested in connection to the theft.
Cattelan's previous works include Novecento (1997), a taxidermised horse hung from a ceiling at the Castello di Rivoli in Turin, where it appeared weary and out-of-place amidst the baroque interiors and portraits of nobility.
He isn't the only artist to use fruit as his material. In 2009, Adriana Lara presented Installation (Banana Peel) at the New Museum in New York. As the title suggests, the artwork was a piece of banana peel placed on the floor of the museum space.
Lara made the work participatory, asking museum employees to consume a banana each morning and to find a spot in the gallery to place it. A security guard took watch over the banana peel daily, as some visitors mistook it for trash.
As the art fair continues until Monday, many more artworks are sure to sell for higher prices. Whether they will be as debate-worthy as Cattelan's Comedian is yet to be seen.