Banana hanging on a wall sells for $120,000

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Aden - Yasmin Abdel Azim - People post in front of Maurizio Cattelan's "Comedian" presented by Perrotin Gallery and on view at Art Basel Miami 2019 at Miami Beach Convention Center. Image Credit: AFP

Sales zipped ahead during the early hours of the VIP opening at this week's Art Basel Miami Beach, the biggest contemporary art fair in the U.S. But none attracted more fame, or infamy, than "Comedian" - it's a banana stuck to a wall with duct tape.

Artist provocateur Maurizio Cattelan, maker of the golden toilet that was stolen in September, has done it again. This time, by attaching a banana from a local grocery store to a wall of Galerie Perrotin's booth. The asking price: $120,000.

According to Artnet, there was an immediate purchase. And then another. At which point the price increased to $150,000, and that sold. Two more bananas went to museums, the gallery confirmed, declining to specify the buyers or the price.

What the buyers got was not the quickly decaying fruit, but rather a certificate of authenticity and, importantly, a definitive, 14-page manual on how to install the work.

It should be hung about 175 centimeters (68.9 inches) from the ground, fixed to the wall at a 37-degree angle and the banana should be changed, "depending on its aesthetic appearance," about every seven or 10 days. About the only specification omitted is the optimum length or bendiness of said banana.

The work is "very Duchamp," said critic Linda Yablonsky, referring to Marcel Duchamp, the French artist whose famous 1917 sculpture, "The Fountain," transformed a urinal into a work of art.

Cattelan's work is also a reference to the time when the artist duct-taped his dealer, Massimo de Carlo, to a gallery wall, she said.

Moving Fast

Away from Cattelan's latest hit, some found the fair a frustrating experience. Mary Rozell, the global head of art collection at UBS Group AG, said the works she wanted were all snapped up. Pieces under $1 million were going especially quickly.

"Half the stuff is sold before you get here," she said.

Amoako Boafo's portraits were all gone within seconds, and hundreds of collectors put their names on a waiting list, with prices for the artist du jour ranging from $25,000 to $50,000.

There was a red dot next to a small abstract painting by Ed Clark that Rozell coveted. Anne Collier's "Woman Crying," which would have been a perfect match for UBS's "Crying Girl" by Roy Lichtenstein, was also spoken for.

Works by Clark, an artist who died in October just as his career was taking off, found buyers around the Miami fair. Richard Gray Gallery sold one Clark canvas for more than $500,000.

Act Quickly

Mnuchin Gallery, which had an exhibition by Clark last year, sold several smaller works, with prices ranging from $150,000 to $300,000. Michael McGinnis, a partner, said he sold one of the works during his flight to Miami. "I could have sold it five times," he said.

Rozell said she finally managed to buy some art. One was a painting by Jeffrey Gibson. Another, a sculpture by Shinique Smith, whose works were on view at the UBS collectors' lounge at the fair.

"You've got to take your time," she said. "But then act quickly."

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