The work features a single slice of pickle that the artist plucked from a McDonald's cheeseburger and chucked at the white ceiling of a gallery.
A Sydney-based artist is taking a dig at the perceived pretentiousness of the art world by charging $10,000 Australian dollars—which comes out to about $6,329 U.S. dollars—for his latest work. Matthew Griffin left casual onlookers questioning their sanity last month when he debuted a work titled "Pickle" at the Michael Lett Gallery in New Zealand during its "Hosting Fine Arts, Sydney" show. As the name suggests, the work features a single slice of pickle that Griffin plucked from a McDonald's cheeseburger and subsequently chucked at the pristine white ceiling of the gallery space.
Reaction to the work has been mixed online, with some calling it "priceless" and "superb" while others roasted the work and noted the vast difference between the way the gesture is handled in a gallery versus the restaurant. "I got kicked out of a McDonald's by the police for doing this when I was a teenager, now it's art," wrote one Instagram user. "Part of a rich late-night tradition," commented another netizen. "It's the banana thing all over again. How unoriginal," tweeted a third, referring to Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan's infamous artwork titled "Comedian" which featured a ripening banana duct-taped to a gallery wall during Art Basel in Miami, in 2019.
"Sometimes a banana is just a banana. And sometimes, like the one duct-taped to a wall that sold for $120,000 this week, it’s an expensive piece of art." Switch off the lights. Civilisation is over. https://t.co/n9cHF11etf— Edwin Hayward 🦄 🗡 (@edwinhayward) December 6, 2019
According to TODAY, Cattelan's "Comedian" sold for $120,000—multiple times as the artist kept taping new bananas to the wall after they had been bought by at least two French art collectors—and was notoriously plucked from the wall and eaten by the New York performance artist David Datuna. Speaking to The Guardian about "Pickle," Ryan Moore, the director of Fine Arts, Sydney—which represents Griffin—explained that inciting a variety of responses to the work is part of the work's joy. "A humorous response to the work is not invalid—it's OK because it is funny," said Moore, adding that the piece follows in the traditions of contemporary art and questions "the way value and meaning is generated between people."
As for the inevitable question of whether a pickle stuck to a gallery ceiling can be considered "art," the director said: "Generally speaking, artists aren't the ones deciding whether something is art or not—they are the ones who make and do things. Whether something is valuable and meaningful as artwork, is the way that we collectively, as a society choose to use it or talk about it. As much as this looks like a pickle attached to the ceiling—and there is no artifice there, that is exactly what it is—there is something in the encounter with that as a sculpture or a sculptural gesture."
And before you ask, the pickle has allegedly not fallen from its spot on the ceiling despite reportedly only being stuck up there with its own sticky sauce. Those looking to purchase Griffin's most recent perishable work of art will apparently also need to shell out the cost of a cheeseburger in addition to the piece's exorbitant price tag. However, the institution or collector who owns it won't receive the exact pickle from the exhibit but will instead be given "instructions on how to recreate the art in their own space." Michael Lett Gallery co-director, Andrew Thomas, shared that "Pickle" has inspired those encountering the work to "think broadly about the various ideas it encapsulates. There have been many smiles, closely followed by some interesting and engaged conversations."
"It's not about the virtuosity of the artist standing there in the gallery throwing it to the ceiling—how it gets there doesn't matter, as long as someone takes it out of the burger and flicks it on to the ceiling," Moore said. "The gesture is so pure, so joyful... that is what makes it so good."