Art Basel in Miami Beach was… bananas. The story of the week, for better or worse, was Maurizio Cattelan’s Comedian, the banana duck-taped to the wall that sold for $120,000 (twice) and eventually became so popular it had to be prematurely removed.
Beyond the antics, sales at Basel were relatively fast-paced, despite the fact that some big international collectors stayed home. The fair reported an overall attendance of 81,000—2,000 fewer than in 2018. Even in a less frantic atmosphere, however, business began in earnest on the VIP preview day and continued through the weekend.
To capture a snapshot of all this commerce, we combed through reported sales from the participating galleries to pull together some highlights. Nota bene: Sales reports are notoriously slippery in the art world. Some purchases may have been finalized long before the fair, while others might only be handshake deals, still waiting on paperwork and cash. But prices themselves are more reliably telling, providing a snapshot of where individual artists stand in the matrix of the art market today. Even here, of course, there is room for slippage: Some dealers occasionally offer inflated figures, while others prefer to report ranges or the “asking price” to obscure the actual selling price, or to cover up favorable treatment that one buyer may have received over another. (We did not include reported sales unaccompanied by a price or price range in our list, so the galleries that tend to disclose figures are disproportionately represented here.)
All prices have been sorted by medium and price and converted to USD for ease of reading.
Alex Katz, Yvonne in Green (1995) at Marlborough. Courtesy of Art Basel.
The banana that sparked a deluge of think pieces and media hype at Art Basel Miami Beach last week shows no signs of slowing down. And those who dropped around $120,000 on their purchase of an edition of Marizio Cattelan’s Comedian—which is, as everyone now knows, a banana duct-taped to a wall—are now stepping forward to defend their purchases.
Billy and Beatrice Cox of Miami, Florida released a statement to Page Six on their acquisition, calling the work “the unicorn of the art world” and comparing it to Andy Warhol’s iconic 1962 Campbell’s Soup Cans. The couple also shared their intention to loan and eventually donate the artwork to a museum.
“When we saw the public debate Comedian sparked about art and our society, we decided to purchase it,” the pair said. “We bought it to ensure that it would be accessible to the public forever, to fuel debate and provoke thoughts and emotion in a public space in perpetuity.”
They also specified plans to replace the fruit every two days in order to keep it “ripe,” although they are “acutely aware of the blatant absurdity of the fact that Comedian is an otherwise inexpensive and perishable piece of produce and a couple of inches of duct tape.”
Though the item itself is perpetually under threat of decomposition, Emmanuel Perrotin, founder of the gallery selling Cattelan’s work, emphasized to the New York Times that the real value of the work lies in the certificate of authenticity, which includes a manual for installation. “All artwork costs a lot of money,” Perrotin said. “They buy an idea, they buy a certificate.”
Billy Cox is a member of the Bancroft family, which in 2007 reportedly sold its shares of Dow Jones & Company, publishers of the Wall Street Journal, to News Corp. for over $5 billion. He and his wife are described as having been collecting art for over two decades.
Sarah Andelman, the Paris-based founder of Colette, is the collector who snapped up the first edition of the work, which is also her first major art purchase. In tune with Perrotin’s words, she says she will hang the certificate of authenticity in her office. Whether it will be displayed next to the banana itself is still up in the air.
“People who usually would not have been so interested in art wanted to see ‘the banana,’” the Coxes went on to say. “It has opened the floodgates and morphed into an important debate about the value we place on works of art and objects in general.”