Mark Andrews: Maurizio shows how the Yanks are going bananas
Oh, to have been the desk sergeant at the police station.
"Are you ok, Sir? You look a bit flustered."
"Erm yes, I'm just a bit shaken, I want to report a theft."
"Ok, can you give me a brief description?"
"Er yes, it's a slightly stale banana, quite plump, the skin's gone a bit scabby, but I was told it tasted ok."
"I see. And the value of the fruit in question?"
"Well, somebody had agreed to pay me £91,000 for it."
The above conversation obviously never took place. The giveaway being the bit about the police station and the desk sergeant. If you want to report a theft today, you will probably end up telephoning a call centre 20 miles away, and be put on hold while a voiceover suggests you try reporting it on the phone app.
But like many tall stories, there is a grain of truth in it. An American couple really did agree to pay the equivalent of £91,000 for an over-ripe banana. And a bloke called David Dutana helped himself to it without offering payment.
If you didn't already know, you have probably guessed that we're talking modern art. The banana, which had been taped to a wall with a bit of silver-grey duct tape, is Maurizio Cattelan's latest work, entitled The Comedian. For those not familiar with the name, Cattelan's previous work includes a solid gold lavatory which he offered to Donald Trump, who presumably considered it a little too tacky.
Anyhow, Maurizio's banana got me thinking. On Wednesday next week, millions of viewers will be sat on tenterhooks waiting to find which of the 16 reality television stars – sorry, I mean ambitious young entrepreneurs – will win the final of this year's Apprentice. Now I always thought I would really love to go on The Apprentice, all the hustling and haggling, wheeling and dealing it would be right up my street. But all this banana business has got me wondering about whether it's worthwhile after all. Every week you see them running around working their socks off, making ice lollies, haggling over the price of eggs, trying to pacify angry customers with gluten allergies, or telling tone-deaf singers they are going to be the next Rick Astley to secure a five per cent commission. And after toiling day and night, they usually end up making a few hundred quid, shared between half a dozen of them, which probably just about equates to the minimum wage. Even Wednesday's winner, who will have endured hours of recriminations in the greasy-spoon cafe and barrages in the boardroom, will walk away with just £250,000. And, of course, the promise of more earache as Lord Sugar's noo bizness par'ner.
Contrast that to the efforts of Maurizio Cattelan, who bought three bananas from his local grocery store, and is now in line for a 400,000 per cent return, with his 'second edition' going for well over £100,000. Pick a hole in that business plan, Lynda La Plante.
But returning to the beginning of the story, you might think Mr Cattelan would be pretty sore about the theft of his priceless artwork, particularly as his £4.8 million golden toilet was also stolen from Blenheim Palace.
But no, it appears Dutana is a renowned 'performance artist', and his stunt is actually also a piece of art. It even has a name, he calls it 'Hungry Artist', and modestly likens both himself and Cattelan to the pop artist Andy Warhol.
"Warhol put banana on a canvas,” explains Datuna, with the solemnity usually reserved for the South Bank Show. “Cattelan takes a real banana and puts it on the wall. David took banana from the wall and ate it.”
But it seems there maybe another reason for Cattelan's relaxed attitude to the whole thing. It seems the banana itself is not crucial to the art. The important thing is the certificate of authenticity, and the fruit itself is a 'service item', to be replaced when it eventually turns to compost.
Lucien Terras, director of the Perrotin gallery, explains: "Datuna did not destroy the art work. The banana is the idea."
So Cattelan has carved out a niche selling certificates testifying that he has come up with strange ideas involving fruit, and gullible rich Americans will not think twice about paying a-hundred-grand-plus for the privilege.
If this is anything to go by, we need to get that trade deal done sharpish.
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