The absurd pieces are courtesy of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated December 10, 2019

I genuinely love conceptual art. I appreciate the layers: being forced not just to see what the artist wants you to see, but also think the way an artist wants you to think. I also appreciate that it's not everyone's cup of tea: These works can come across as silly, stupid, or even downright lazy. That's been apparent since the early days when Marcel Duchamp rechristened a urinal as Fountain as presented it as art back in 1917. Over 100 years later, artists are still walking that delicate line. Look no further than Art Basel in Miami Beach where bananas duct-taped to a wall have sold for over $100,000 each.

Getty Images / blackwaterimages / Sergey Ivanychev / EyeEm

In literal terms, Comedian—as the work is called—is exactly what it sounds like: an ordinary banana attached to a normal white wall with a single strip of gray duct tape. You could likely recreate it at your home right now (assuming you haven't eaten all of your bananas). But you (probably) are not Maurizio Cattelan, an Italian artist known for his absurdist works like a sculpture of Pope John Paul II hit by a meteorite and a functioning toilet made out of solid gold called America. Those pieces are both worth millions, so it's probably not surprising that art lovers are looking for more affordable Cattelan works to add to their collection.

However, Cattelan has been slow to release new stuff recently—even saying he was retired in 2011 before returning in 2016—and The Art Newspaper reports that Comedian is the artist's first new piece to be presented at an art fair in over 15 years. As such, the first iteration of Comedian flew off the shelf (or more accurately, wall) on Wednesday for $120,000. In a very comedic (and lucrative) move, Cattelan created a second "edition"—which sold for the same price just two hours and 15 minutes later. "Maurizio is seriously back," art dealer Emmanuel Perrotin proclaimed to the paper.

Of course, there's more to this art than simply taking people's money—in theory, at least—and according to the Perrotin gallery where the banana was displayed, Comedian "offers insight [into] how we assign worth and what kind of objects we value." Okay, maybe it is just about taking people's money—and that's the joke. Reportedly, choosing the price was part of the process, trying to find a figure that was both significant enough to prove the banana is art but also not completely insane.

And apparently, Cattelan did put a lot of thought into how he would be taking people's money. "He made several models: first in resin, then in bronze and in painted bronze before finally coming back to the initial idea of a real banana," the gallery added. The artist himself told Artnet News, "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.'"

Worth noting, the gallery also stated that there's no set plan on what happens as the banana deteriorates, only that, "If the banana molds, a decision on that will be made on site." To be fair to the banana, a similar sentiment could be made about any work of art—though a Van Gogh is probably less likely to get mushy.

Meanwhile, a third edition of Comedian apparently exists. However, Cattelan and Perrotin have reportedly decided that this final banana will go where it belongs. No, not in a school cafeteria. In a museum, of course. Cost: $150,000.

Advertisement