FEW art works sold in the past few years have drawn so much attention as ''Comedian'' by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, in part because, despite its price and ironic humor, it is at its heart a banana that one tapes to a wall.

The sly work's simplicity enticed collectors to pay as much as $150,000 for it at a Miami art fair last fall, an act of of connoisseurship that delighted them but astonished the the many people who had not imagined that a, um, ''sculpture'' of fruit on a wall could command such a price.

Now the work's aesthetic merit is being reinforced by the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, which is accepting it into its collection as an anonymous donation.

''We are grateful recipients of the gift of ''Comedian,'' a further demonstration of the artist's deft connection to the history of modern art,'' said Richard Armstrong , the Guggenheim's director. ''Beyond which, it offers little stress in our storage.''

In fact, ''Comedian,'' as sold, does not include a banana or tape. what one buys is a ''certificate of authenticity,'' a surprisingly detailed : 14 page list of instructions , with diagrams, on how the banana should be installed and displayed.

Lena Stringart, the Guggenheim's chief conservator, said the instructions would be quite essay to follow and were quite completely regarding how often to change [seven to 10 days] and where to affix them [''175 cms above the ground'']

Of all works I have to confront, this probably is one of the simplest,'' Ms. Stringart said. ''It's a duct tape and a banana.''

The conservation of conceptual art is not always so straightforward for museums increasingly asked to preserve works made from all kinds ephemeral substances, like food.

How does one care for a scale model of the Algerian city made out of couscous? A sculpture made of interlocking tortillas. All works the Guggenheim has shown.]

Given that expectations that museums will preserve works for generations, centuries, maybe even forever, the host of tricky questions that surface around this sort of work go beyond the more typical concerns of how to touch up an oil painting.

How do you preserve a balloon that contains the artist's breath 'It's called ''Artists Breath''] and that inevitable is going to deflate? [The Modern]

WHAT about computer-based art when the computer or its software is out of date and can't work anymore? Or the many pieces that have been created from fluorescent lights when the fluorescent lights are no longer manufactured.

The answer, for some, is as high concept as the art.

''Once you think that art is an idea and the material is secondary then it does not matter if that material lasts for a long time,'' said Melissa Chiu, director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden at the Smithsonian in Washington.

The Hirshhorn has its own conservation specialists who tend to art created from ''time based'' materials the degrade. ''A lot of them are really challenging. The museums role in a way to preserve the works forever.''

The focus is so much on the idea that, in some cases, the materials do not outlast the end of the exhibition. Lie the works involving bananas or couscous, the art object is thrown away but the art idea lives on, to be recreated in the future according to artist's instructions.

The publishing of the continues. The World Students Society thanks author, Graham Bowley.


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