A Banana Sold for $120,000 at Art Basel
The artwork is called 'Comedian.'
“It’s one banana, Michael, what could it cost? Ten dollars?”
That famous quote from Arrested Development was meant to portray Lucille Bluth, the show’s wealthy matriarch, as completely out of touch with the reality of produce prices. But if recent events at the Art Basel festival in Miami are any indication, Jessica Walter’s most famous character actually underestimated the value of a banana by more than four figures.
To the art market, a banana duct taped to the wall of a gallery during an international art festival is worth precisely $120,000. That’s not a hypothetical value: someone paid that much to acquire the Maurizio Cattelan art piece dubbed “Comedian” after it was displayed by the prestigious Galerie Perrotin. Actually, two people have purchased $120,000 bananas at Art Basel so far, inspiring Perrotin and Cattelin to raise the price to $150k for whoever wants to buy it next.
In terms of both the materiality and aesthetic principles guiding “Comedian”, it is— and I can’t stress this enough— literally just a banana duct taped to ta wall. Artnet reports that Cattelan went to a Miami supermarket to find the banana, which presumably charged him no more than a dollar. While slapping a banana onto a wall looks like the mere product of chance, the Italian artist made a point to note that both the angle and placement of the banana in the Galerie Perrotin booth were considered quite carefully.
As an artist whose work often simultaneously satirizes and enthralls the art world (the 18-karat gold toilet he titled “America” comes to mind), Cattelan also eschews the idea that there’s any deeper meaning behind the banana itself. Though he long dreamt of creating a sort of banana-like sculpture, his eureka moment came when he decided to not use a banana as a model for a larger work, but to make the banana the work itself. In a statement that may someday rival French surrealist René Magritte’s “ceci n’est pas une pipe,” Cattelan simply told Artnet “In the end, one day I woke up and I said ‘the banana is supposed to be the banana.’”
The challenge with an inherently temporal work like this is what happens as it’s reshaped by the inevitability of decay. Will “Comedian” rise or fall in value as the banana goes bad? Does the buyer have the right to call Cattelan and ask him to swap in a fresh banana? Can you eat this art, thereby effectively ingesting $120,000?
To most who see the work from a distance, the answers probably don’t matter much given that you can make your own version of “Comedian” at home with duct tape and the banana that’s probably sitting on your kitchen counter. Of course, thats setting aside the robust discourse within postmodern and post-postmodern art about how found objects are recontextualized as “art” via creative authorship, market value, and the cultural sociology of gallery spaces, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day. For now, no matter how much anyone out there is willing to pay for the next iteration of “Comedian,” remember this: the banana is supposed to be the banana.