Go bananas: Maurizio Cattelan’s “Comedian” gifted to the Guggenheim

Go bananas: Maurizio Cattelan’s “Comedian” gifted to the Guggenheim
The Guggenheim Museum in New York. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
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Art isn’t always bowls of apples, pears, and grapes, sometimes, it’s a banana, and sometimes it’s a banana that’s made its way into the Guggenheim’s collection. Of course, we’re talking about the banana that made headlines last year at Art Basel Miami Beach as part of an installation by Maurizio Cattelan.

The work, titled Comedian, was a relatively low-key work, a regular, store-bought banana duct taped to the wall of Perrotin gallery’s booth, but it was an instant sensation amongst fair-goers, who crowded in to get a glimpse, and on the internet as it became the focal point of memes. It harkened back to Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917) and drew, as you might expect, enthusiasm and criticism; some saw it as a genius masterstroke while others found it to be absurd. Comedian even became a symbol for a local Miami protest of workers fighting for better pay while thousands made their own renditions of the artwork duct taping anything from a squash to a person on the wall.


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Cattelan’s Banana Goes to the @Guggenheim! 🍌 We are pleased to announce that Italian artist @MaurizioCattelan’s work ‘Comedian’ has entered into the permanent collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Excerpted from Graham Bowley’s announcement in the @nytimes: ‘The work’s aesthetic merit is being reinforced by the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, which is accepting it into its collection as an anonymous donation. Guggenheim’s director, Richard Armstrong says: “We are grateful recipients of the gift of ‘Comedian,’ a further demonstration of the artist’s deft connection to the history of modern art.”’ — #CattelanBanana #MaurizioCattelan #Comedian #Guggenheim #GuggenheimCollection #Perrotin — Courtesy Perrotin

A post shared by Perrotin Gallery (@galerieperrotin) on

Cattelan’s Comedian was big, and then, artist David Datuna walked into Perrotin’s booth, ate the banana, and elevated the artwork’s profile. In the end, the gallery was able to sell three editions of the work, two at a whopping $120,000 a piece and the final one, sold post-consumption, for $150,000. Perrotin even had to turn down offers by individuals looking to acquire one of two artists proofs of the work.

Now, the banana is back after one edition was gifted to the Guggenheim, a museum already stocked with a number of Cattelan’s works. Although the museum has not announced who donated their edition of Comedian, Artnet News pointed out that one set of buyers, Billy and Beatrice Cox, promised that they would eventually give the work to a museum. The Coxes referred to the work as “the unicorn of the art world” but it is still uncertain if they were in fact the donors.

Richard Armstrong, director of the Guggenheim, said the museum was “grateful” to have another work by Cattelan, who Armstrong described as an artist with a “deft connection to the history of modern art” in The New York Times. Armstrong also referred to the ease of acquiring Comedian as “it offers little stress to [Guggenheim] storage.” That’s because Comedian does not come with its own banana or even its own duct tape, instead, all that was physically bought at Art Basel Miami Beach and then gifted to the museum was the work’s certificate of authenticity. Alongside the certificate is a set of instructions informing the owner of how to properly fit a banana with a strip of duct tape at just the right angle (37 degrees) at just the right height (about 68 inches off the ground). The banana itself, according to the artist’s instructions, should be replaced every seven to 10 days, depending on how it looks.

As for Cattelan, the artist retired in 2012 but came out of retirement when he presented America, a fully-functioning 18-carat gold-cast toilet, in 2016. Unfortunately, just as America was set to go on view at Blenheim Palace last September, it was pried out of place, stolen, and has yet to be heard of since. Luckily for the Guggenheim, though, with this work if someone steals it or if a museum-goer is feeling a bit peckish, they can simply buy another banana from the shop and reinstate the artwork.