The $120,000 Banana: It’s got to be a joke
Last week an Italian artist named Maurizio Gattelan entered a work in the Basel International Art Fair. He bought a banana, duct taped it to the wall, and called it “Comedian’. He was having a joke at the art world’s expense.
Then it appeared that the joke might be on him. Another artist, American David Datuna, ate the banana, videod himself doing it, called the video performance art and posted it on his Instagram account. He called it ‘Hungry Artist’. He said he loved Gattano’s work which he described as delicious.
This just sounds silly but sillier things were about to happen. Two galleries offered to purchase Gattano’s work for $120,000 each. When a third inquired the price went up to $150,000. What the buyers got was a ‘certificate of authenticity’ signed by the artist, which give them the right to duct tape a banana to their gallery wall. When the banana gets old they can presumably replace it because it’s the idea that counts.
Gattano seems to make money out of being an artistic prankster. In 2016 he created an eighteen carat gold toilet bowl which he nailed to the wall and titled it ‘A comment on art, money and Trumpian desire’. The Guardian art critic claimed to have used the work for its functional purpose. It was later exhibited at Winston Churchill’s childhood home of Blenheim Palace from where it was stolen and has never been recovered.
You have to hand it to Gattano: he has cashed in on the new wave in art which seemsto be that it is the idea that counts rather than the execution. The American artist Jeff Koons has made a fortune out of this innovation. He started years ago when polaroid cameras were the go. He would take a polaroid of a fire hydrant and then go to a fibre glass factory and get one made that was ten metres tall. He would then sell it to an art gallery for a small fortune.
His crowning glory was a 15 metre high puppy made out of plants with flowers on them. These were in strategically placed flowerpots and needed pruning from time to time but had the advantage that they could be reproduced in a number of cities at once.
But when you look at it Gattano’s work is far more efficient. It only requires a single banana and a roll of tape and it can be replicated almost immediately for very little overhead. And it is easier to tape a banana to a wall than it is a mango or a pineapple.
Of course the artist doesn’t want the ‘experts’ who bought his bananas to look like idiots who have been conned so he invents a whole lot of art babble to show that it represents an evolution in aesthetics. He argues that using real objects that decay is a way to show that wealth and acquisitions are ephemeral. It is also emblematic of the fact that capitalism can slip on a banana skin like the rich man in a silent comedy. In the meantime capitalism has paid him nearly $400,000 for three bananas.
The man is a genius.