The Reader: £100k fruit? The art world’s gone bananas

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I don’t know who’s the barmier — Maurizio Catellan, the Italian “artist” whose latest work “Comedian” was, before it was eaten, a banana stuck to a wall with duct tape, or the unnamed collector who paid $120,000 for it.

But, considering that the great and good of the “art” world voted Marcel Duchamp’s “Upside-Down Urinal” to be the most iconic work of art of the Twentieth Century — why should we be surprised?

Visiting the Tate Modern with a friend some years ago, we spotted a discarded chocolate wrapper in a corner near the bottom of a flight of steps.

We sat down on the floor and stared at it — talking absolute rubbish to each other, sotto voce, and, sure enough, within a few minutes a crowd had gathered, discussing among themselves exactly what the “artist” was getting at.

To my mind most modern art encapsulates the fable of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.

Robert Readman


Editor's reply

Dear Robert

Let me introduce another Robert into this conversation — Australian critic Robert Hughes, who said the job of art now is “to sit on the wall and get more expensive”. He did not mean it as a compliment but at least Mr Catellan’s banana has done that job, though I can understand your reaction to it.

I should hold my hands up because the art world runs on hype and journalists like me can get sucked in.

Put simply there is too much rubbish hogging too many headlines, but amid all the Emperor’s New Clothes you describe there are still some things worth seeing.

Take for example the National Gallery and V&A shows covered today .

In both there are works that can stop you in your tracks, from an early illustration of London by an imprisoned French nobleman to satire by William Hogarth.

Let’s both make a New Year’s resolution to start ignoring the rubbish and look out for the gems.

Robert Dex, Arts Correspondent


XR protests don’t speak for locals​

I read with interest the article of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) “bulldozer protest” at Heathrow.

Anyone who lives near the airport will know how ethnically diverse the area around it is but XR were a poor reflection of this. It left me wondering how many of those holding the “lie in” had visited the area before, other than for a flight.

If you talk to residents you would find that a new runway has more supporters than opponents in 16 of the 18 constituencies nearby. They see the benefits of 40,000 jobs and regulations that will tackle noise, protect air quality and reduce CO2.

The XR campaigners have a right to protest but should not be confused with the silent local majority who support expansion at Heathrow.

Parmjit Dhanda, Director, Back Heathrow campaign

Politicians need to behave better​

As the election approaches, let us not forget the urgent need to restore the dignity of Parliament, which has been demeaned in the public eye as a result of immature behaviour of MPs.

Members of Parliament should be role models. Reasoned debate is an essential part of Parliament, but the display of rancour that we witnessed in the last parliament is unacceptable.

The legislative procedure would be more efficient if attitudes mellowed.

John Cooper

Flexi-working stops spread of flu​

That the NHS is having to urge people to stay home for 48 hours after their winter vomiting bug symptoms have passed points to a problematic culture of presenteeism in the workplace. People are returning to work too soon thanks to the stigma around taking time off.

In fact, sick days taken by UK workers have halved since 1993 according to the ONS, with medical professionals attributing this to a growing mistrust and fear of judgement from bosses, forcing workers into the office when ill.

The winter months, rife with flu — and this year, norovirus — mean it is more important than ever for business leaders to encourage flexible working for employees; ensuring workers feel able to stay away from the office when sick.

Technology tools mean staff can work anywhere and at any time, and productivity need not suffer. Given that staying home prevents the spread of disease and speeds up recovery for workers, flexible working is a no-brainer.

Jason Downes, MD at PowWowNow