Maurizio Cattelan is an Italian artist that’s known for his over the top satirical sculptures, such as La Nona Ora (1999), which depicts Pope John Paul II being hit by a meteorite, or his infamous golden toilet. However, that hasn’t stopped people getting upset about his most recent offering at Miami’s Art Basel, which is literally just a banana stuck to a wall with duct tape.
To be fair, criticism of the artwork – Comedian (2019) – probably has more to do with its pricetag. Specifically, its $120,000 pricetag. And the fact that two of the three on offer have been bought already, according to Artnet. (The price of the third edition has reportedly been raised to $150,000, with multiple museums already interested.)
To add to all that, the idea isn’t even particularly novel. Bananas are pretty widespread in the art world, appearing in surrealist paintings through to that Velvet Underground album cover by Andy Warhol and Banksy wall-art, a handy phallic symbol for a variety of occasions. Using found, decomposing food is nothing new either (see: Lee Bul’s rotting fish, for example, which stunk out MoMA and caused a fire at London’s Hayward Gallery).
So obviously, buying a banana taped to a wall is ridiculous and the slew of social media comments talking about how the money would be better spent are probably completely valid. But isn’t that also, like, kind of the point?
Even if Cattelan does claim Comedian isn’t a joke and that every aspect of the work is carefully considered – which could, of course, be a part of the joke as well – isn’t the idea that it makes you question what qualifies as art? (For Cattelan it’s not the banana itself but the certificate of its authenticity; the gallery, Perrotin, had a spare banana in the back just in case one goes missing.)
It’s difficult to deny that it makes you question the art world and the politics/economics/culture that help it thrive when someone’s willing to drop $120,000 on a banana that will probably decay within about a week (even if it does have its own certification). So, hasn’t it kind of done its job?
Either way, Maurizio Cattelan and his dealer won’t have anything to complain about.