Wealth inequality leads to this kind of art circus.
Comedian, 2019, Maurizio Cattelan, photo courtesy Sarah Cascone
These stories come around periodically, and I remind myself to not rise to the bait. But here we go again: a banana taped to a wall by Italian artist-provocateur Maurizio Cattelan has sold—not once, but twice—for $120,000. By the time the second iteration sold, Cattelan and his dealer had been on the phone together and decided to raise the price on the third and final iteration to $150,000. Two museums were interested.
Maurizio Cattelan is famous for two other highly-conceptual pieces: The Ninth Hour, which depicted Pope John Paul being struck by a meteorite, and an 18-karat-gold functional toilet entitled America, which was recently stolen from Blenheim Castle. (Since it contained $4 million in gold and the reward was a paltry $124,000, it was probably melted down.)
America, 2016, Maurizio Cattelan, photo courtesy Stu Spivack
Meanwhile, the majority of working artists worldwide will struggle to make $120,000 through art sales in their entire careers. In a way, that’s the equivalent of comparing my son’s music earnings to Taylor Swift’s, but the analogy breaks down there. Taylor Swift produces an actual product that is consumed by many millions of fans every year. Cattalan duct-taped a 25-cent banana to a wall. Actually, he didn’t. The taping was done by a gallerist, and they have a spare on hand in case the original gets moldy. The artist told Artnet that although he isn’t there, the shape of the fruit, the angle it was taped to the wall and its placement in the booth were all “carefully considered.”
We are told there’s great concept underlying this banana. “Wherever I was traveling I had this banana on the wall. I couldn’t figure out how to finish it,” Cattelan told Artnet writer Sarah Cascone. “In the end, one day I woke up and I said “the banana is supposed to be a banana.”
“When we started to work together, I had to fight to convince collectors one by one to buy his work,” dealer Emmanuel Perrotin told Cascone. In other words, this is a triumph of salesmanship, not art.
Most importantly, the bananas come with the artists’ certificate of authenticity, which may be the real work of art here. Without it, you have, er, a banana. “A work like that,” said Perrotin, “if you don’t sell the work, it’s not a work of art.”
La Nona Ora (the Ninth Hour), 1999, Maurizio Cattelan, courtesy Paul Nyzam
Meanwhile, Marketwatch blames this on wealth inequality:
“[T]he latest global art market report from Citi Global Perspectives & Solutions shows the time is ripe for such headline-making art sales. People are spending more money on high-end paintings, sculptures and other works, and the report notes that ultrahigh net worth individuals collectively hold $1.74 trillion in art and collectibles…
“That’s thanks in part to the rise of Chinese art investors; China has accounted for a third of the art market’s global growth. But the authors also suggest that the rising art prices on the top end reflect widening wealth inequality; America’s 1% hasn’t had this much wealth since just before the Great Depression, even as millions of people live paycheck to paycheck.”