It’s Art Because Someone Says It Is

In December of 2019, an artist named Maurizio Cattelan created something that took the world by storm. As seen above, he took a banana — a regular, banana — and affixed it to the wall at Art Basel Miami Beach, an art fair. He called the banana-tape-wall thing “Comedian.” Visitors to Art Basel were smitten by the creation, many seeing symbolism and appeal beyond the peel. Someone even bought it for $120,000 (and then someone took it off the wall and ate it, but that’s another story).

But the real debate was whether this was actually art, or whether it was just a piece of fruit left behind, taped to a wall. Was Comedian precious or just a stupid prank? If it’s art, well, making a masterpiece can’t be that easy… can it?

Yes, it can. Just ask Lloyd Jack and Ruairi Gray. 

If you’re well-versed in the art world and you don’t recognize their names, don’t worry — Jack and Gray aren’t famous. In 2017, they were students at Robert Gordon University in Scotland, and, for whatever it’s worth, they weren’t even studying art. The did, however, visit a modern art exhibit on campus, and they decided to have a little fun.

Noticing that the exhibit had a few empty tables, the pair decided to make a quick run to the supermarket. For the price of £1 — about $1.30 — they purchased an otherwise regular pineapple. As the BBC reported, the duo returned to the exhibition, placed the pineapple on the table, and took a picture of it and shared it on social media with the caption “I made art.” And then, they left the gallery, leaving their joke pineapple behind.

When they returned the next day, they saw this:

Same pineapple. Same table. But unexpectedly, it was now under a glass case. Someone involved with the exhibition decided that the prank pineapple “art” was, in fact, a legitimate expression of someone’s innermost creativity.

The pineapple remained on display for about a week, according to the New York Times. It turned out that a janitor had placed the glass over the pineapple, not knowing why it was there, but it took the exhibit’s curators a few days to realize that the tropical fruit wasn’t supposed to be there. Once they did, according to CTV News, they decided to let it remain a bit longer “because it’s keeping with the playful spirit of this commission.”

This time, though, the piece of fruit on display didn’t fetch a six-figure check. Jack and Gray’s pineapple ultimately began to rot and was thrown away.

Bonus fact: The “leaving random items in an art museum” prank works better than you’d think. In 2016, a pair of teenagers visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and were bemused by how mundane many of the exhibits were. So they ran their own experiment, placing a few personal items on the floor to see what happened. As the New York Times reported, their initial attempts were failures — when they placed a jacket and then a baseball cap on the ground, no one seemed to notice. But, as seen here, a pair of glasses did the trick — within minutes, more than a few passersby stopped to admire the “art” and some even got on the ground to take a picture of the “exhibit.” 

From the Archives: Impressive Fruit: Pineapples were once art. For real.