Just like Hollywood, when the art market focus’s its lens on you things can get crazy real quick. Oscar Murillo, fresh out of the Royal College of Art, has become virtually overnight the art world’s new darling. Why? When the big art collectors smell an opportunity there is money to be made – and quickly. The problem is can this young kid with good skills be allowed to develop his work, which for a painter normally takes about 10 years. The LA Times hit him pretty hard.The spotlight could change him…
While Mr. Murillo is little known outside clubby contemporary art circles, and he has his share of skeptics, his fans have called him “the 21st-century Basquiat.” That night, after fierce competition, “Untitled (burrito)” sold for $322,870, more than six times its high $49,000 estimate. Only two years ago, Mr. Murillo, who was born in Colombia, was waking up at 5 a.m. to clean office buildings to cover his expenses at the Royal College of Art in London. Now, he is represented by David Zwirner, one of the world’s most prestigious galleries, and when a choice canvas comes up at auction or through private sale, it can fetch more than $400,000.
The story of how a young artist like Mr. Murillo soared from struggling student to art star — courted by blue-chip dealers, inundated by curators requesting a work for a museum exhibition or biennial — reflects the way investing in contemporary art has become a gamble, like stocks and real estate. Collecting works by rising artists like Lucien Smith, Jacob Kassay, Sterling Ruby or Mr. Murillo is a competitive sport among a growing number of collectors betting on future stars.
Process, not product, is the point Murillo makes, rather heavy handedly. Think Cy Twombly on a very bad day, his deft touch replaced with ham-fisted brutality. Or Donald Baechler sans the dopey kick of playful innocence.
Murillo’s four finished paintings are equally anemic. Each large piece is less compelling than a single square inch of anything Jean-Michel Basquiat ever touched.
The exhibition goes to great lengths — not to mention great expense — to shroud the reality of labor in the fantasy of artistic redemption. That’s the opposite of what Warhol was up to. Unfortunately, it defines our times, a kind of gilded age on steroids, when the past gets repackaged as farce.
The Over Night Success of Oscar Murillo