A NZ$10,000 work of art consisting of a single slice of pickle plucked from a McDonald’s cheeseburger and thrown into the ceiling of an Auckland art gallery is a ‘provocative gesture’ deliberately designed to challenge question what has value, according to the artist’s gallery.
The work, titled Pickle, is owned by Sydney-based Australian artist Matthew Griffin, and is one of four new works in the Fine Arts, Sydney to Auckland exhibition held at the Michael Lett Gallery.
Some fans relish the work, calling it “awesome” and “brilliant”; others called him “dumb”.
“Part of a rich late night tradition,” one social media post said.
Another pointed to the gap between the way the gesture is handled in a gallery and in a restaurant: “I was kicked out of a McDonald’s by the police for doing this when I was a teenager, now it’s l ‘art.”
Writing for ArtForum, Wes Hill said: “Griffin has earned a singular reputation for what we in Australia call ‘taking the piss’ – a sardonic undercutting of self-seriousness and spin.”
The piece is reminiscent of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan’s infamous work titled Comedian – a ripening banana stuck to the gallery wall during Art Basel in Miami, in 2019, which sold for US$120,000. It was then ripped from the wall and eaten by New York performance artist David Datuna.
Generating different responses at work is part of the joy of the job, said Ryan Moore, director of Fine Arts Sydney, which represents Griffin.
“A humorous response to the work is not invalid – it’s OK, because it is funny,” Moore said.
Griffin’s work appeals to Moore because in addition to using humor as a tool, it engages with contemporary art traditions and questions “how value and meaning are generated between people” .
The inevitable question of whether Pickle is “art” does not bother Moore.
“Generally speaking, it’s not the artists who decide if something is art, they’re the ones who make and make things. Whether something is valuable and meaningful as a work of art is how we collectively, as a society, choose to use it or talk about it,” Moore said.
“Even though it looks like a pickle hanging from the ceiling – and there’s no artifice there, it is exactly what it is – there’s something about the encounter with it like a sculpture or a sculptural gesture.”
The pickle is stuck to the ceiling with its own sticky sauce and showed no signs of decomposition or peeling – “if you go to McDonald’s anywhere in the world you will see things stuck to the ceiling”.
Michael Lett Gallery co-director Andrew Thomas said Pickle was an important inclusion in the exhibition, allowing those encountering Griffin’s work for the first time to “think broadly about the diverse ideas he encapsulates. “.
“There were lots of smiles, followed closely by interesting and engaging conversations,” Thomas said.
The artwork costs NZ$10,000 and will cost the buyer an additional NZ$4.44 for a cheeseburger. The institution, or the collector who owns it, will receive instructions on how to recreate the art in their own space.
“It’s not about the virtuosity of the artist standing there in the gallery throwing it to the ceiling – it doesn’t matter how he gets there, as long as someone gets him out of the burger and throws it at the ceiling,” Moore said. .
“The gesture is so pure, so joyful…that’s what makes it so good.”