After decades of creating work that straddled the line between ingenious and infuriating, Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan announced his retirement in 2011, right when his own retrospective was opening at New York's Guggenheim Museum.
That retirement lasted five years. Cattelan's return was marked with the arrival of America, a working toilet that was made from more than 200 pounds of 18-karat gold. The toilet was put on display in a bathroom at the Guggenheim, where it stayed (and was used as, you know, a toilet) until this September, when it was shipped to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England, for another Cattelan show. (It was also stolen within days of its arrival, but was ultimately recovered.)
Cattelan hadn't exhibited new work since America, at least not until this week, when he bought some bananas from a Miami supermarket, got a roll of duct tape, and turned them into a cool 200 grand.
According to ArtNet, Cattelan taped a banana to the wall and put it on display for Art Basel Miami Beach. The piece, called Comedian, immediately gathered more interest than any piece of fruit this side of the Old Testament. Emmanuel Perrotin, the owner of the Parisian gallery that wears his name, put the piece up for sale and it was snapped up by an unnamed French woman for $120,000. The work, Perrotin said, "offers insight [into] how we assign worth and what kind of objects we value."
Perrotin and Cattelan started working out the details on a second version, and it was quickly bought by "a French man" for the same price. The third version, they soon decided, would be priced at $150,000 and sold directly to a museum. As of this writing, the buyer has not been named, but two museums have "expressed interest."
Cattelan told the publication that he'd been trying to finish Comedian for more than a year—no, for real—but his early attempts with bronze bananas or resin replicas just weren't quite right.
"Wherever I was traveling I had this banana on the wall. I couldn’t figure out how to finish it,” he said. “In the end, one day I woke up and I said ‘the banana is supposed to be a banana.'"
The banana that is currently on display will be replaced by the end of the week, but the artist hasn't yet explained how often the works' owners should un-tape and swap those bananas for fresh ones. (For $120,000, you'd kind of expect to leave with a guide on caring for the banana).
Regardless, Comedian is pure Cattelan. According to the New York Times, his very first show, held at a SoHo gallery in the early 1990s, was made of nothing but one crystal chandelier, and one live donkey. The chandelier, he said, represented the world, while the donkey represented him. The show closed in a day, mostly because of complaints about donkey shit.
Some of his iconic works have included a lifelike sculpture of Pope John Paul II being crushed beneath a giant meteorite ( La Nona Ora); a statue that looks like a praying child from the rear, but from the opposite angle is revealed to be a kneeling Adolf Hitler ( Him); and a drowned, possibly post-suicidal Pinocchio ( Daddy, Daddy).
But unlike the thieves who stole America from Blenheim Palace, if anyone tries to make off with Comedian, well, all they've got is a banana.