Is it art, or is it trolling? The answer is up to the viewer in the case of one recently exhibited work of art.
On July 7, Australian artist Matthew Griffin debuted a work he titled “Pickle,” a single slice of pickle he plucked from a McDonald’s cheeseburger and subsequently chucked at the pristine white ceiling of a gallery space. And no, it allegedly never fell from that spot, before you ask. Quite an arm, Picasso.
The work, which was recently shown at Michael Lett, a New Zealand gallery that hosted the former cucumber at its show called “Hosting Fine Arts, Sydney.” Griffin is an artist known for starting conversations on the perceived pretentiousness of the art world, using comedy as a starting point to discuss serious issues like health and dental care for freelance artists in Australia, for example.
According to the gallery, this most recent work is intentionally designed to question what art has value and what doesn’t.
If you were hoping to see the work, or maybe even shell out $10,000 Australian dollars (which comes out to about $6,329 U.S. dollars) for the work, unfortunately, the show closed on July 30. Still, any purchaser of the work won’t receive the exact pickle from the exhibit but will be given “instructions on how to recreate the art in their own space.” No word on whether or not the work sold, but you could probably save a few thousand dollars by hitting your local drive-thru and re-creating Griffin's artistic process.
The exhibition is one of four new works by different artists each exhibited for the first time including Griffin’s “Pickle,” another artwork that consists of a single house plant alongside a speaker playing ambient noise in an hour loop, a third work of a sconce lamp and finally, a sketch of a woman eating a banana.
Themes of the exhibition which relate to the works include transience, distance and time, according to a gallery press release. Perhaps it’s up to the viewer to decide which artwork goes with each theme.
Arguably the most complex part of the brine-based work to digest for some is the description of the artwork’s medium. While the label at the the Louvre for the “Mona Lisa” says the masterwork is painted with oil on poplar wood and any of a number of works by Edgar Degas are simply drawn with dry pastel, “Pickle” includes a quite a bit more than just a pickle:
Regular Bun: Wheat Flour (Enzymes), Water, Sugar, Canola Oil, Wheat Gluten, Glaze, Iodised Salt, Yeast, Improver (Wheat Flour, Malted Wheat Flour, Antioxidant (300), Enzymes (Contain Wheat)), Emulsifiers (472e, 471), Preservative (262). Beef Patty: Beef. Cheese: Milk, Salt, Starter Cultures, Enzyme (Rennet — Calves &/or Vegetarian), Water, Milk Solids, Non Fat Milk Solids, Emulsifiers (331, 332), Cheese Flavour, Salt, Acidity Regulators (260, 330), Emulsifier (322 — Soy), Colours (160a). Ketchup: Water, Tomato Paste, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Distilled Vinegar, Salt, Natural Flavour (Soybean Oil). Pickles: Gherkins, Water, Acidity Regulator,(260), Salt, Flavour, Firming Agent (509), Preservative (211). Onion: Water, Dehydrated White Onions. Mustard: Water, Distilled Vinegar, Mustard Seed, Salt, Colour (100), Paprika, Natural Flavouring. Beef Patty Seasoning: Salt, Pepper and Sunflower Oil.The medium list for matthew griffin's "Pickle" artwork
These, of course, are the ingredients of a typical McDonald’s cheeseburger, which surrounded the pickle until its gallery debut. If purchased, the eventual owner of the piece won’t be given the exact pickle, but instructions for how to recreate the artwork in their own space instead, which appear to be only two steps, if we’re being honest.
Reaction to the work has been decidedly mixed, with some art critics calling it “priceless” and “superb” while others roasted the work a bit like the all-beef patty it was once placed upon.
“I got kicked out of a McDonalds by the police for doing this when I was a teenager, now it’s art,” said one Instagram user.
“How do they exhibit this so called art work? Did they rip part of the ceiling out?” asked another commenter on Instagram.
“It’s the banana thing all over again. How unoriginal,” said a third user, this time on Twitter. (Everyone’s a critic.)
Griffin’s most recent perishable work of art comes three years after a similar work from Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. That piece, “Comedian,” is an infamous artwork that consisted of a single banana duct-taped to a gallery wall which was exhibited at Miami's Art Basel in 2019. That piece sold for $120,000 — more than once, in fact. The artist just kept taping new bananas to the wall after they had been bought by at least two French art collectors.
Notoriously, the third edition of Cattelan’s perishable piece was taken off the wall and eaten by another nu-Duchamp, New York performance artist David Datuna.
Surprisingly Datuna wasn’t charged for the stunt — either by police or Perrotin, the gallery that technically owned the work. As a Perrotin associate told TODAY in 2019, the banana itself does not represent the value of “Comedian” — its value comes from a certificate of authenticity that contains exact instructions for installation and further authenticates that the work is by Cattelan.
Still, one of those other surviving (and likely very, very black) banana-based works was donated and accepted into the the collection of prestigious art institution the Guggenheim in 2020, so like it or not, one day “Comedian” might it might don the storied walls alongside works by Van Gogh and Cezanne.
About "Pickle," the gallery owner told The Guardian to take the serious-seeming intent of the artwork with a grain of salt, so to speak.
“A humorous response to the work is not invalid,” said Ryan Moore, the director of Fine Arts, Sydney, which represents Griffin. “It’s OK, because it is funny.”
Just like other readymade artists (and yes, there is a category of art that “Pickle” and “Comedian” belong to, which has existed since 1913), Griffin’s artwork is using humor as a device to question “the way value and meaning is generated between people” according to Moore.
Whether or not the ensuing fruit flies, mold or wayward raccoons are stored with works like “Pickle” and “Comedian” as they inevitably rot with time, it’s safe to say this new wave of perishable art has officially gone global. Yummy.