I am thinking of buying the Prime Minister a Christmas present.
This may sound a little like a turkey buying shares in Bernard Matthews – how many in Scotland, after all, voted for Boris? – but ’tis the season so hear me out. At the very least, it might spark an idea for those awkward, last minute gifts we all struggle with in the final festive push.
Catherine Deveney.You will, I’m sure, have seen that Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, most famous for his gold toilet installation at Blenheim Palace, has created a major new art work: a banana stuck to a wall with silver duct tape. Owned by the Perrotin Gallery in Paris, it sold for 120,000 dollars at the Basel art fair in Miami before a performance artist ate it. But fear not, dear reader! Another banana with duct tape is available – though you may now have to part with $150,000 to buy an official one.
Interesting, the role of consumer power. The object, in monetary terms, is almost worthless. The consumer, however, has decided it is a valuable objet d’art. It is now desirable because somebody wants it. This, I fear, is a little like Boris. Somebody told us he was Prime Ministerial material – and now, miraculously, he is. But oh, he’s a card, that Boris! Let’s put him in the jungle and make him do a trial.
We have seen the opposite of all this with the Peloton exercise bike. The company’s disastrous Christmas advert, widely condemned as sexist, managed to wipe 1.5 billion off the company’s share price. It shows a woman’s video diary as she uses her partner’s Christmas gift: an exercise bike. Why didn’t he just go the whole hog? Give her a subscription to WeightWatchers and one of those American, dieter aids that screams, “In here again, fatso?!” when the fridge opens. The Peloton is still useful, but no longer desirable.
So, people power drives market value. (Which means, I guess, we get what we deserve.) But at least any last minute, festive gift headache is now removed faster than you can say ‘paracetamol’. Fifty pence should do it. A banana, a length of duct tape, and you have a gift worth 150,000 dollars. Who is to say that the one you give is not officially from the Perrotin Gallery? Isn’t this the nub of modern art? Pickled sharks, unmade beds, trapped bananas…..You are paying for concept, not sophisticated execution.
A little like politics. Is what you are told you are seeing, really what you are seeing? What is art? What is truth? Who is the Prime Minister? A voice shouts, “Get Brexit done” at regular intervals and we believe it will be ‘done’ if we just vote for it to be ‘done’. Fake news tells us that a four year old sleeping on a hospital floor is itself fake news. A political aide walks into someone and claims resound that they were ‘assaulted’. Our eyes tell us what we are seeing – an old Etonian fibber, a banana stuck with a bit of duct tape – but somehow, we can be convinced otherwise.
The smart people will tell you why conceptual art is important. The banana is symbolic. Like everything in life, it will gradually decay. It is a metaphor for life and death: the transience of health and vitality. Or it’s a metaphor for food being in a prison of the rich’s making: only those with $120,000 to spare can release it. Are you buying this, reader? Or are you shrieking that the Emperor is wearing no clothes?
I once interviewed artist Tracey Emin, whose unmade bed was a controversial example of modern art. It had dirty, rumpled sheets and was festooned with the debris of a period of her life when she was severely depressed. Why, I asked her, was her unmade bed art, and my unmade bed just an unmade bed?
Her answer? “Because you didn’t say that yours was art and you didn’t feel that it was. I saw it as art and felt that it was. I said that it was and showed that it was. I have transferred what I feel on to someone else looking at it. That’s the alchemy. That’s the magic.”
Powerful magic. Apparently, the banana masterpiece is a, “complex reflection of ourselves”. How true. We are all bananas. Cattalan called it , “Comedian”. I’d laugh too if I persuaded someone to part with 120,000 dollars because I’d thought about a banana for 18 months and the best I could do was to stick it on a wall with tape.
But it’s Christmas, so I’d like to give some modern art to a very modern Prime Minister.
I have thought about it for at least 18 seconds – I’m a fast worker – and it’s going to be called, “Conman”. It consists of a raw turkey leg, tied to a nail on the wall with tinsel. (Clever, no? External glitter but the substance will eventually putrify and smell.) And the display wall will be scrawled with graffiti that says, “Turkeys and Christmas: I didn’t vote for this.”
Catherine Deveney is an award-winning investigative journalist, novelist and television presenter