By Katya Kazakina – Sep 17, 2013 9:01 PM PT
Rubell Family Collection via Bloomberg
Oscar Murillo at work in a gallery space at the Rubell Family Collection.
Two years ago, artist Oscar Murillo, now 27, cleaned offices to put himself through art school. His paintings sold for less than $3,000.
Rubell Family Collection via Bloomberg
The way collectors are grabbing for his messy canvases in a frenzy has all the earmarks of an art-market bubble.
“He’s had the quickest upward trajectory for his age of any artist I’ve seen in 25 years,” said Kenny Schachter, a London-based dealer, curator and writer. “There’s a lot of money to be made trading Oscar Murillo at this point.”
In June, an untitled 2011 painting featuring scribbles, dirt and the word “Pasteles” fetched 253,875 pounds ($389,199) at Christie’s in London, more than eight times the high estimate.
David Zwirner, whose gallery represents postwar masters Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Ad Reinhardt, added Murillo to his stable just last week.
Tomorrow, the artist’s first major solo show in the U.K. opens at South London Gallery, a nonprofit space where the entire content of the Murillo’s studio will be on view, from stitched canvases and porcelain vases to dried beans and bottle caps.
Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips will offer works by Murillo in their September contemporary-art auctions in New York.
“Untitled (stack),” made a year ago with two overlapping canvases featuring the words “Water” and “Taco,” is estimated at $60,000 to $80,000 at Sotheby’s. (BID)
“He is being branded as the next Jean-Michel Basquiat by the speculative part of the market,” said Belgian collector Alain Servais, who paid about 30,000 pounds ($47,715) for a Murillo installation earlier this year. “I am worried the market will put such pressure on him that he won’t be able to develop.”
Murillo grew up in La Paila, a small town in Colombia where his family worked in sugar-cane mills. Eventually, the clan immigrated to London, where Murillo made his way through the Royal College of Art.
Elements of South American culture — food, music, language — populate Murillo’s art practice, which knows no boundaries, including performance, installation, publishing, painting and sculpture.
The Murillo buzz began building around 2011 with performance art pieces like “animals die from eating too much – – yoga!” In this project, several women twisted into yoga poses as the audience watched.
Energized, he continued with “animals die from eating too much — bingo!” in which he entertained female art patrons with Colombian food and a game of bingo.
Dealer Francois Ghebaly, an early supporter, brought 15 paintings by Murillo to NADA Miami art fair in December 2011. They were priced at $2,500 to $8,500.
“Everything sold in the first hour,” said Ghebaly.
Young Murillo was already moving to the next level with the helping hands of Hans Ulrich Obrist, an influential curator, who invited him to London’s Serpentine Gallery and the Roman arena in Arles, France.
At the Serpentine, South American office cleaners mingled with art-world patrons eating Colombian food, drinking champagne and dancing salsa. (This was the piece, not the party.)
By December 2012, Murillo had another major platform during the Art Basel Miami Beach art fair: the Rubell Family Collection/Contemporary Arts Foundation.
On opening night his 15-foot-tall paintings, featuring the words “Mango,” “Chorizo” and “Yuka,” were seen by international collectors and museum directors.
“This kid is striking,” said Mera Rubell in an interview. “When you meet him, you want to be part of the story.”
She and her husband, Don Rubell, met Murillo earlier that year in New York. Knowing they were coming to his temporary studio, he created nine new paintings in 48 hours.
They invited him to be the first resident artist at their foundation in Miami. He stayed for five weeks and made 50 artworks.
“We bought all 50 works,” Rubell said.
THE TELEGRAPH LONDON
Art market news: Colombian-born artist Oscar Murillo to be represented by the David Zwirner Gallery
Colombian-born artist Oscar Murillo, whose prices have rocketed in recent months, to be represented by the David Zwirner Gallery which has premises in London and New York, says Colin Gleadell.
When young artists suddenly start to make high prices there’s often a change in representation about to take place. In the case of 27-year-old Colombian-born London resident Oscar Murillo, whose sudden astronomic price rise I commented on in July, it has now been confirmed that he is to be represented by the David Zwirner Gallery which has premises in London and New York.
Murillo applies studio debris to his rough-hewn canvases in what can be classed as a performance. Last summer, the auction record for one of these canvases leapt from £20,000 to £254,000 amid gossip that he was to be represented by the White Cube gallery. Until then he had shown with numerous galleries, particularly the Carlos Ishikawa Gallery in London.
However, representation with David Zwirner – rated as one of the most powerful and successful contemporary art gallerists with artists Luc Tuymans and Marlene Dumas, as well as the estates of Donald Judd and Dan Flavin on his books – takes Murillo into a new league. The news precedes the opening of his latest show at the South London Gallery in Peckham on September 20.
Oscar Murillo, ‘Dinner at the members club? Yes! i’ll have a black americano first pls’, installation views, 2013
The title of Oscar Murillo’s first London solo show was a mouthful: ‘Dinner at the members club? Yes! i’ll have a black americano first pls’. The titular ‘black americano’ in this case was – by his own admission – none other than the young London-based artist himself, whose Colombian origins are often emphasized in his painterly and performance-based practice (though there were also packs of ground coffee at the gallery, which visitors were welcome to take home). ‘The members club’ was apparently a reference to the ICA committee who had invited Murillo to rustle up something nice and performative for their annual fundraising dinner. He was happy to oblige: his debut exhibition at Carlos/Ishikawa became the setting for a champagne lunch, prepared by the artist with his relatives and served on grimy tablecloths made of ornate fabrics that had been gathering dirt for the occasion.
Welcome to the members club (all works 2013) is also the title of a 42-minute video, which documents the making of lollipops at the factory that employs most people in Murillo’s hometown, La Paila, in the southeast of Colombia. (Packed into boxes on one of the two platforms in the main space, the freely available sweets inevitably recalled Félix González-Torres’s candy piles.) But the artist doesn’t consider rough-and-ready, handheld videos such as this one to be art works in their own right; rather, he uses them to set his practice in context. A similar role is assigned to the social gatherings – such as dinners, yoga sessions, games or dances – that Murillo refuses to call ‘performances’ (though others do that for him), because they strike him as a natural, spontaneous outgrowth of his work, as opposed to an exercise in relational aesthetics of the kind practiced by, say, Rirkrit Tiravanija and his peers.
When it comes to Murillo’s broader output, it’s not always easy to determine what is ‘work’ proper and what is mere support. In a sense, everything at Carlos/Ishikawa was folded into his work’s sociable sphere for the duration of the show, and most of the things on display could be bought when they were not freely given. Yet not all of the objects had the same status. For example, one of the exhibition’s most distinctive features – the reflective copper sheets laid over a low plywood structure – were not art as such, according to the artist, but rather work-in-the-making (to be shown at a later date in a different gallery). Three weeks after the opening, these had lost some of their sheen and were looking tarnished – precisely the effect Murillo strives for. Instead of presenting a finished product, the artist wanted this exhibition to reflect some of the processes that inform his studio practice.
Painting forms the backbone of Murillo’s artistic practice, though rather than a brush he often uses a broom stick and a sizeable oil paint pad, in a sort of rudimentary mono-printing technique. Roughly hewn, stitched-up canvases in two or three different sizes – mostly large – and as many varieties (he calls them ‘banners’, ‘stack paintings’ and ‘bingos’) were hung on, leaned or stacked up against all available walls. Before the mark-making process begins, these are left lying about for a month or two to wear them in and let them gather ‘information’ (what the artist has referred to as the ‘DNA of the studio’). Murillo, who sees mess as a generative force, makes it a point never to tidy up his work environment. There is an archival element to much of the artist’s production, which retains traces of former activities, whether in the shape of single, underscored words and numbers (‘work’, ‘yoga’, ‘poker’, ‘maiz’, ‘3’) that feature prominently on his canvases, or condensed into solid dirt balls made up of studio débris (pulped drawings, thread, cement dye, copper, dust) dotted around the gallery.
‘Dirt’, and sometimes ‘dirt on canvas’, is insistently listed among the artistic media in Murillo’s works. More than just a widely available material, dirt for the artist has a levelling effect: we all experience it, black and white, rich and poor alike. In his eyes, that’s what makes it ‘democratic’. It’s easy to dispute this claim. Dirt is, after all, socially stratified; it belongs to the streets, to some more than others, and grows more scarce the higher one climbs. In some quarters (the art world among them), dirt can be exotic, a rarefied commodity, the mark of originality.
Murillo evidently sees himself as a mediator between different demographics, facilitating encounters between two worlds that would not normally meet – namely the art crowd and the Latin American immigrant community – through the events that he organizes. And yet, at the rehearsal fundraising lunch at Carlos/Ishikawa, the artist’s relatives who cooked tamales for us sat at their own table. The event may well have been intended as a critical comment on the exclusivity of the artist’s dinner, but the message it ultimately put across was as confusing as the exhibition’s title.
Oscar Murillo, ‘Dinner at the members club? Yes! i’ll have a black americano first pls’, installation views, 2013
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THE ART NEWSPAPER LONDON
Interview with Oscar Murillo: at home with the Rubells
The 26-year-old artist on what it was like to live and work at the Miami collectors’ private museum this summer
By Ermanno Rivetti. Web only
Published online: 06 December 2012
The Colombian-born, London-based artist Oscar Murillo, 26, gained attention while he was still completing his painting MA at London’s Royal College of Art. A recently graduate, he is presenting a show of new work at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami. Murillo spent several weeks living at the Rubells’s museum, producing a number of large-scale works, five of which will be exhibited on-site. Murillo talked to The Art Newspaper about his forthcoming show, his two-pronged approach to making art, and the effects of growing up without video games.
The Art Newspaper: How did you meet the Rubell family?
Oscar Murillo: They saw a solo project I did with Stuart Shave/Modern Art at the Independent fair last March in New York, and they were curious to know more about what I do. At the time, I was living in the city so they came to the studio. I knew who they were but I hadn’t met them before. However, they were interested enough to offer me an exhibition.
You are the first artist to have had a residency at the collection.
It’s a kind of residency but it’s not something that [the Rubells] do as collectors—they did it to facilitate my project. I said that I needed to work in situ in order to make something on a large scale. The museum closes in the summer, so it was the perfect opportunity to go there and make the show happen.
What was the set-up like? Were you given any rules to follow?
It wasn’t like a commission—I was never told “we want this type of work”, but I knew I was going to have a show in that space and there were certain things I wanted to focus on. However, there was enough time to treat the space as a studio and not assume that certain works were going to be shown. My living quarters were linked to the museum so, if I wanted to, I could wake up at 2am and have access to it. Despite the fact that they—the Rubells, the museum staff—had seen my work, they were still relatively new to what I do, so this project was something of a leap of faith for them.
Have you worked on this kind of scale before?
No. This was the perfect opportunity to challenge myself.
Were you assisted by anyone while you were there?
Juan Roselione-Valadez, the director of the museum, was great, for many reasons. He looked after me and sourced the materials that I needed, but we also had very interesting conversations about the work as it developed.
You like to incorporate certain words into your paintings.
Certain words are often connected to a type of social endeavour that I like to bring into the realm of my own practice.
You once said that your paintings are “permanent archives or reminders of what else happens in the practice”. What did you mean by that?
When I spoke of the wider aspect of my practice, I was referring to my performances. Some of my paintings contain abstracted words—“chorizo”, “yoga”, “mango”—but the performances create context for them. For example, prior to the performance at the Serpentine [Gallery, in London] earlier this year, I was invited by Comme de Garçons to do a campaign for their new season. They used five images of previous paintings of mine and gave me £10,000. Their clothes are quite expensive and I could have bought a new wardrobe, but instead I invited members of my family to go to Dover Street Market in Mayfair, London, and attempt to buy some of these clothes, which are targeted at a certain kind of audience—my mother is not exactly eight stone. The trip became a cultural clash that I wanted to do something with. The project at the Serpentine was coming up so I called the performance “The Cleaners’ Late Summer Party with Comme des Garçons” and the idea was to invite a wide demographic of our society to participate. The performance was a party and Comme des Garçons became an anchor. It became something that you could win during the evening’s events: raffles, dance competitions, karaoke. The brand, which is usually very exclusive, became a democratised item. That was the idea.
I also did an event in Paris: a bourgeois birthday party where a similar kind of cultural clash happened. This time there were different Colombian foods there. I’ve also done two yoga-based performances. That’s where I got the idea of infusing the words into the paintings and that’s what I mean when I say they become archives. These paintings give me the opportunity to freeze the performances into the work. I mean, a painting is a rectangular device used to record things.
How did you become an artist?
I was never really an artist as a child. There’s no history of anyone in my family being an artist and I didn’t grow up around art at all. In Colombia I grew up outdoors, I played in building sites – I didn’t grow up with a Playstation. It was a very tangible existence and I was raised like that until I was ten. Then I moved to London. You might have found that same environment in post-war London, but in the mid 1990s it was totally different: there were so many safety buffers. It’s a very sanitised environment and so art became one of the only things that I could tap into to satisfy my desire for tangibility.
You say you didn’t have much art around when you were growing up, and that it was more of a physical existence, but this physicality is also central to your practice.
Exactly—the idea of obliterating or abusing material in a way that is kind of careless or primitive is something that I used to do to a piece of wood when I was a kid, for example.
This is an important show so early in your career—did you feel any pressure to perform?
Its hard to contextualise it now—nobody has even seen it. When the work was finished, I felt pretty satisfied with the results and I felt a moment of euphoria. But now I’m just interested in seeing the reaction of the public more than anything. There’s always pressure to perform. I could be naive and say I felt no pressure and that I treated it just like working in a studio, but I decided to go there and challenge myself. I feel this is a real opportunity; who knows, I might not get to make a seven-metre painting ever again, so it was the perfect moment. Everything was there and I wasn’t going to shy away from it.
”Oscar Murillo: Work” is at the Rubell Family Collection, Miami, until 2 August 2013
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Listen to an audio excerpt from this interview:
Untitled, 2012, oil paint, graphite, oil stick on canvas, 128 x 100 1/2 inches. Images courtesy Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London, Carlos/Ishikawa, London, Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie, Berlin.
When I meet Oscar Murillo for the first time, it is in Central London. Murillo lives and works in East London. Anyone familiar with this city knows that the distance between East and Central is nothing to scoff at. Yet Murillo shows up unfazed on his bike—neon yellow and neatly folded by the time he enters the café—and greets me with a quiet warmth and open ease.
Murillo has had his fair share of journeys; he is a native of La Paila, Colombia, and a resident of London, who, just a day before our meeting, confirmed our appointment via mobile from Paris and, in less than 24 hours from when we meet, is scheduled to board a plane to Miami. Distance, displacement, movement: these are all concepts that Murillo explores in his practice—a manifestation of a body in transit, an artist’s incisive inquiry into the geographies of space, both on the canvas and off, within the studio and out into the world beyond.
Born in 1986, Murillo is a recent graduate of London’s Royal College of Art. A painter with a flair for the performative, he often works with video and participatory installation. As we talk, he shows me recent work on his computer, a range of paintings, as well as documentation of what the artist refers to as “family parties”—vibrant films, saturated with motion and color, of intimate gatherings of his friends and kin. These pieces—home videos, nearly—are illustrations of localized ceremony and everyday happenings, situated eons away from the white boxes of the art world. They are a window into the celebration and ritual of a collective public.
The canonized archetype of an artist alone in his studio—quickly expiring as we wade further into the tides of a global culture—is one that this artist, refreshingly, does not seem to have much of an allegiance to. For Murillo, the act of making holds as much potential for liberation and functionality within the confines of one’s studio as it does in one’s home, on the street, or within one’s community. In his work, actions and words, paint and parties, all speak at the same volume. The objects made by his hand float buoyantly within the realm of the liminal, always here and there, inside and out, home and abroad, all at once very familiar, and yet, somehow, entirely untranslatable. Murillo’s use of text in his paintings illustrates the limits and the possibilities presented by language; words are part of histories that are not always our own, but that we cling to. The physicality of painting is one that provides a sturdy framework for making the leap into the performative realm, a showing of convivial desire. Here, the artist raises a champagne glass—and sometimes an arepa—in lieu of a looking glass, an eloquent reminder of the spaces we travel between and a reflection of these worlds and the constructs that lend them composure, and neutrality.
Legacy Russell We’re here in London just after your return from Paris last night and before you leave for Miami tomorrow. I’d love to hear about what you were doing in Paris, and what you plan to do once you hit Miami.
Oscar Murillo My Berlin gallery, Isabella Bortolozzi, is taking part in FIAC in Paris. Around the fair other projects are happening, for example, “R4” is working toward building up a museum in the outskirts of Paris on this island called l’île Seguin. The curator of the Migros Museum, Raphael Gygax, decided to commission about 20 artists to do outdoor projects on the island, among them Oscar Tuazon, Annette Messager, Ugo Rondinone, Nicolas Party, Martin Soto Climent, and me.
My piece, called Make it Happen in Steps, was based on something I had done this summer in the South of France and which involved me and a collaborator running, jogging, and dancing in an amphitheater. An amphitheater is a space that demands a spectacle. But the production value of my work is purposely low. I like to work with things that are—I wouldn’t say necessarily always around me, but I like to be resourceful, basically. I got a mirror, two empty cartons of coconut water, and a playlist of Fania All-Stars music—Latin American artists like Celia Cruz and Tito Puente, major salsa musicians. So I created a one-hour playlist and jogged and danced in front of a mirror to this music. At the end of it, I just walked off and that was the piece.
At l’île Seguin in Paris, I didn’t want to do exactly the same thing, but I wanted to use the same principles. I got myself a couple of sheets of reflective acrylic mirror, two speakers, some amplifiers, four car batteries, some disco lights, and an iPod with the same Fania All-Stars playlist. The island is a heavily industrial place, a bit like Detroit. There used to be a car factory there, and it’s quite run-down. The idea was to curate an installation that would play this music continuously, and not be dependent on someone having to turn it on and off. It’d just be there, kind of playing along—bringing some life to the place. So that happened last weekend, just before I did a two-person presentation with David Hammons at FIAC.
milk, 2012, oil, spray paint, oilstick, dirt on canvas, 77 1/8 x 65 3/4 inches.
LR And what about Miami?
OM I met the Rubell family for the first time in New York earlier this year. They got curious about my work, and we had a studio visit. My gallery called, “Don and Mera want to come to your studio.” And I said, “Well, I don’t have any work in the studio.” The gallery said, “We’ll get some work from storage and bring it over.” I thought, Bringing paintings back to the studio, what’s the point? For me it was an opportunity to show my work in process because the process is very important. Finished paintings they could see in the gallery. So before the Rubells visited, I stayed up all night and made a couple of paintings. Making these works created a residue of the process. And the Rubells understood that.
Every year they curate a show for their foundation in Miami; the last one was American Exuberance with four huge paintings by Sterling Ruby in the main gallery space. This year they invited me to do something there. I went to Miami this past April. They suggested this incredibly large room—I mean, it’s overwhelming! I didn’t feel comfortable making work for such a massive space without inhabiting it somehow. So I said, “I think it’s very important for me to come here and make the work from scratch.”
LR You occupied it—physically.
OM At the beginning of summer, I traveled back to Miami with all my materials and lived there for six weeks, working at the Rubell family collection.
LR So when’s the opening? When do other bodies get to occupy the space, along with you and your works?
OM The work is done and will open in December for Art Basel Miami Beach.
LR You paint, you’re doing performance, you’re recording these performances and they’re being shown as videos. All these different strands connect. Where does painting situate itself in your practice and where does it intersect with performance?
OM Paintings happen in the studio where I have my own kind of system, although there can be physical residue of performance in them. I like to cut up the canvas in different sections, work on them individually, fold them and just leave them around for months. I don’t work on a painting with the goal of finishing it or having a complete and finished painting at the end of a work process. The idea is to get through as much material as possible, and various materials go through various processes. In most parts there is this mark making that happens with a broomstick and oil paint. I make a bunch of those canvases, fold them in half, and put them on the floor. My studio is a cradle of dust and dirt, of pollution. I don’t tidy up at the end of each production process. It’s all very much on purpose; it’s continuous process, a machine of which I’m the catalyst. Things get moved around, I step on them, and they get contaminated. It’s not about leaving traces, it’s about letting things mature on their own—like aging cheese or letting a stew cook, they get more flavorful. That’s kind of how these paintings are made.
yoga, 2012, oil, spray paint, oilstick, dirt on canvas, 77 1/8 x 65 3/4 inches.
LR So the textures, these layers—they’re in part done by your own hand, but also by the larger sort of “hand” of the environment they’re born into. It’s a collaboration of creative site and creative body in that way, a sort of merging.
OM The individual canvases are very much the DNA; they record that movement, the process of making. When these different processes are done, I move on to the stage of actually composing a painting. The individual canvases are laid out with the aim of making a composition. For example, the painting we are looking at right now started with different patches of bleached black fabric, then there’s this mark-making process, and then you have the word at the end. And that’s the last thing that is added to the work.
LR Is the text in the foreground meant to represent a dialogue of what’s taking place in the background? “Pizza,” for example, or “Champagne”—are these words represented in the textures and painterly gestures they are suspended in?
OM For me the words are very displaced. Like cultural displacement with performance, in painting it’s material displacement, object displacement. I’ll show you this one, which I’m really excited about. It says, “Yoga.”
LR This one is really neat because there is a physicality that is manifest in the word itself.
OM Yeah. Some words like yoga have gained a duality of meaning in my work. They are not only visually representative of their meaning but also, compositionally, there’s a formality. The canvases get folded so you get the word kind of mirrored in the paint’s absorption onto the other side of the fold, and sometimes you get a pattern. Here it almost looks like a person doing yoga. So as my practice develops, the concept of displacement is present in both my performances and in my paintings.
LR How does performance tie in, regarding the narrative of displacement? How do your physical actions find their place within open space?
OM The idea of the space, regardless of my own art, underlies all that. There’s so much movement in the world, constantly. We all move around, we all travel, and I like to think most of the population in the world has shifted from one place to another; not necessarily globally—it could just be locally from one part of the country to the other. And so things change. For example, I’ve come to appropriate music and Vita Coco coconut water as symbols of displacement. Coconut water has been incredibly well marketed as a tropical drink that comes from parts of the world like Hawaii and the Caribbean. In metropolitan cities it has a certain message attached—healthy lifestyle . . .
LR Restorative powers in some way.
OM You find it in yoga studios, in gyms, and in all kinds of fitness places. So for me, there’re all these interesting navigations. I grew up in a very small town in South America and now live in London, which I have adopted as my home. But I’m also being displaced because I don’t find complete satisfaction with one or the other. That can be a micro example of displacement. For me these paintings are by-products of being in the studio and making work. I mean, that’s one shift. I guess that happens to all artists when showing work in galleries, or showing work in one place or the other.
LR There’s also a literal displacement when you’re taking the work out of the studio—I like how you called it a “cradle” earlier—into a totally different situation, a different context.
OM Yeah, exactly. But I like to think that these paintings also imply a displacement of time. They’re like rugs. An unstretched painting is a kind of abstract thing, one that suggests that it perhaps has been found or comes from some other space or time. But while it has this aura of being a historical thing when placed out of context, it just comes from the studio.
work just happens! to the noon via the beach, 2012, performance in Arles, France.
LR Let’s talk about the sort of family-party performances that you’ve done. I would also like to hear about the collaboration with Serpentine Gallery, The Cleaners’ Late Summer Party, which seems to link back to the idea of bringing people together, providing an opportunity for exchange, and maybe engaging with an audience that extends beyond the bubble of the art world. I mean, for you to have a party with your family is one thing, but to bring that into an art-world context . . .
OM I want to give you more background about the parties: they are family events for celebrating something—a birthday, a communion—or just people getting together. Like most parties, sometimes you only talk, sometimes you dance. I’ve been doing these parties with my family, but I wouldn’t exactly call them performances. I’ve been very cautious as to how I appropriate these family parties and bring them into the realm of my art practice and out to the public as an event that happens within the art world. So the spaces have to be very particular; it’s not like, “Let’s just throw a party in a gallery space.”
LR Well, the rules of a “family party,” versus an “art-world party”—at first blush they are totally different. Yet both are social spaces, both are spaces that can be politicized, that have their own vernacular and rubrics of ritualized behavior.
OM The Serpentine was very interesting because it isn’t exactly a gallery, but an institution. I took advantage of the fact that the institution was willing to host my event not in the main galleries but in the outdoor pavilion. As part of their annual commission, this year the Serpentine had the architect team Herzog & de Meuron collaborate with the artist Ai Weiwei to design a pavilion. Starting in June the Serpentine hosted a summer program there.
The pavilion itself had this interesting architecture—it wasn’t about a show of architecture, it was about an understatement of architecture. It looked like a theatrical space: you had seats, there was a kind of platform where you could speak or perform. So I decided to take over the entire space and decorate it as if we were having a family gathering.
My family works in the cleaning industry and they used to have these really great parties in the summer and Christmas, where people would dress up. It was a big deal. It was very eloquent, in a kind of, you could say, “cheesy” way. But it was really nice. We had food, and there was an abundance. The parties don’t really exist anymore because there’s no money around, there’s no money for parties. So I thought, Well, I have this offer from Serpentine; the conditions are perfect to throw a party. I want to do this. Then there was also this other layer, which was Comme des Garçons—
LR I was going to ask about that, how to negotiate the introduction of that genre of haute couture.
OM I did a project with them; they commissioned me to do an ad for one of their campaigns and I thought, Oh this is great. But also there was a degree of discomfort because as much as I like Comme des Garçons as a label, it’s not something that I wear. The presence of the brand brings up notions of commercialism and publicity, things I’m interested in exploring in my work—hence the words that I use sometimes in my paintings.
LR Right, with the canvases like banners, the words at that scale are almost like billboards. They really speak to the culture in which they’re produced—everything bleeds together in that way.
OM Exactly. They gave me something like $12,000 in credit—it wasn’t in money, it was in credit—and that’s insane.
LR With that, you can buy one shoe there. Maybe two if you’re lucky.
OM So I thought, Well, what am I going to do with this? So I combined the two projects and it became A Late Summer Party with Comme des Garçons. The idea was that the party would be a party, and we’d have champagne. We’d make it as elaborate as possible, and then Comme des Garçons would come in as this kind of extra layer. Now, how to democratize Comme des Garçons? How to make a product that is usually very exclusive available to the masses? So we got as many items as possible with the credit offered—perfume, clothing, what have you—and then made them prizes at the party for dance competitions and games. But we also just gave it away. While the typical art audience was present, the core of the party was my family community, a community of friends.
animals die for eating too much! yoga, 2011, Performance at Hotel, London.
LR It seems like this creates some permeability in the white-wall institutional space that’s not your space, that’s not public space.
OM Yeah. The pavilion was a buffer. These projects and these parties also have a sociopolitical undercurrent.
LR Would you consider it a mode of activism?
OM I don’t think it’s activism; it’s more my wanting to give some strength and purpose. It’s not about an agenda—
LR —or a cause.
OM Yeah, there’s no cause or agenda. There’s a desire to bring different facets of society together through events, and that’s very much the bottom line. It then assumes a social and political agenda because of the potency that it carries. Most of the time it’s positive, but there can be challenging elements that you have to deal with. Two days ago, on the 18th of October, there was a family party that I did in Paris—and I mean this was bourgeois, this was, like, crazy. The event took place in a beautiful private home near the Champs-Élysées in the center of Paris. You had a Picasso on the wall, you had Lucio Fontana pieces by the bedside—it proved to be the perfect setting to celebrate a birthday and I invited a friend of mine. It wasn’t his birthday and he didn’t even know about my intent. About an hour before the thing began I said, “You do know that we’re here to celebrate your birthday?” He kind of freaked out but then he really embraced it. The invitation to the performance was a birthday card; it was kind of confusing, and threw people off. Some people said, “Why am I going to celebrate this guy’s birthday? I don’t even know who he is.” So they come into this incredible Parisian apartment and there’s Latin music, really expensive champagne (Ruinart!) going around, and then tamales, which is a typical Colombian food. So there were these mixtures. Champagne and tamales don’t necessarily go together—
LR But they can, right? Because they did! (laughter)
OM Yeah, exactly. They did! I think it’s psychological. So you had this kind of mishmash of cultures, and then one minute the music stops and this guy makes an announcement to thank me for celebrating his birthday, and everybody starts to sing “Happy Birthday” to him and then we all began dancing.
LR What type of Latin music?
OM A lot of salsa. Just the sound of music in this house was weird, you know?
LR Yeah. I was going to ask you about the concept of “Latin American conviviality,” a phrase the Serpentine used in the press release for your event. It’s interesting to think about what that means, and whether you perceive your work as speaking through a particular vein of Latin American identity.
OM I don’t think so. I mean, it’s inevitable—I’m Latin American myself. So I’m not exactly going to appropriate a different culture to—
LR Right, it’s always good to start by working with yourself, first.
OM Exactly. It has to be genuine, it has to be authentic. It can always fail, I’m not saying that it’s always going to be successful. But the success rate is higher when you have higher control over the different topics at hand. And so it was and is usually Latin American conviviality, but it has a resonance in relation to everything. For example, there are these yoga performances that I’ve done—last year I transformed the whole gallery into a yoga studio and allowed my friends and people I know to come and do yoga for free. I made these yoga platforms and installed these very makeshift mirrors. Because it was temporary, there wasn’t any reason to be elaborate about it. It simply needed to be functional. Yoga, especially Bikram yoga, is incredibly—
LR It’s incredibly intense.
The Cleaners’ Late Summer Party with Comme des Garçons, Serpentine Gallery Park Nights, 2012. Photo by Lewis Ronald. Courtesy Serpentine Gallery, London.
OM Yes, it’s intense on the body, a real physical workout. Bikram yoga is something that this guru, Bikram Choudhury, from India, started. Yoga as a practice is a Hindu tradition but then it was transported to Western society, where it was packaged. It started in LA and has been gradually franchised. It’s also an industry that today is dominated by women. Men do it—I do it from time to time—but yoga was something that women were not allowed to do. All these shifts are interesting to me, and I reference yoga because I know it and I’m able to talk about it authoritatively.
LR You start with yourself.
OM Yeah. It has to be personal somehow.
LR I wanted to ask you about the neoconcrete—a lot of people writing about your work have been talking about the history of neoconcretism. That movement happened around 1959 to 1961 and is often tied to artists who worked and lived in Brazil. In the neoconcrete manifesto, they talk about work being conceived as a sort of quasicorpus—the idea that a work’s reality is not exhausted by its constituitive elements. But rather that the work can have a life outside of those elements, exist within social or public space, and, in doing so, avoid a narrow specificity. Do you have any thoughts on that?
OM Obviously I think the neoconcrete movement from that period in Brazil was something quite strong. You had artists like Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, and Lygia Pape. Neoconcrete art was a catalyst at the time. I think that a lot of the work—not to say it’s derivative—is influenced by modernism. But they were able to appropriate from this stiff, rigid period of European modernism and digest it, and produce their own identity. And they opened it up and made it accessible to society. I guess you could say theirs was a multipurpose, flexible practice, making work that is almost pragmatic, something that’s useful.
LR That serves society in some deeper sense and, in doing so, hopefully avoids becoming part of a more elusive canon that escapes the culture or community the work is meant to serve.
OM This applies to the neoconcrete objects but also to the performances and other projects. They were inclusive because at the time it was normal to bring people together for a common cause. In our time it is difficult to talk about community.
LR Why would you say that is?
OM I think the word community has a stigma attached to it, no? And it’s very elusive too. Community can mean many things. There’s this idea of the art community, which is complete bullshit. Or the Latin American community. It’s just a label that is easy to put on things. These family parties are a way to be with my family and be together with people. It’s not like cultural tourism. These are genuine things that real people participate in.
LR And it’s part of your personal fabric.
OM Yeah, part of a personality. In terms of having a relationship to this period of art in the early ‘60s, the work and the participants were not forced. You can feel that there was a sense of that conviviality, as you were talking about earlier.
LR There is a part of the neoconcrete manifesto that talks about art as an instrument for creating society. It seems to me that it would ring true in talking about these worlds that you’re creating, these environments, these societies, that people can either opt into or opt out of and participate in different ways. So what do you see as your next steps as you continue to build your practice, build your work—are there directions you’re curious about exploring?
OM I want to make it more ambitious, more focused. A lot of these projects have happened between Europe and Colombia or in both Colombia and Europe. I think it would be really interesting to do something along these lines in the States. Like in New York. The idea of tuning into that particular culture is very important. So I think that’s where I see these things working out next—you know, to think about the sensitivity of the next place that I would like to do something, and then make it work there.
LR And continue painting.
OM And continue making these paintings. Like I said earlier: they’re fundamental to my practice. Painting for me functions as a form of mediation. You shut yourself off in the studio and make this work and there’s a relationship to everything else that happens in the practice, whether it’s directly connected or not. How do I apply that same kind of rigor and authenticity to everything else? How to show my works in new ways? How to retain control over them, even if they were sold and someone else now owns them? The dirt we spoke of earlier, well, there’s dirt everywhere—New York, London, New Delhi—all around the world, and so that’s kind of democratic. At least for me.
In the studio with Oscar Murillo, artist
‘Most painters are terrified of painting as the same space where they are defecating’
Saturday, 7 September 2013
Oscar Murillo is tucking into a lunch when I meet him across the street from his studio in east London, and we start our interview over tasty Turkish food. I ask about the press he received for his paintings going for record prices in the June auctions and he says he was in his native Colombia and the news swept through the country.
He is clear that his work is not about the market at all, but is about the experiences that he had, first in South America and now here in his adopted country. Born in 1986, Murillo and his family came to London in when he was 10. He recalls his idyllic “childhood innocence” in a small village in Colombia with a large extended family. “My father was a mechanic in a sugar cane factory and my mother worked for a candy factory: we had a sweet life!”
Fifty of Murillo’s relatives have migrated to London, forming as close clan here as in Colombia. “My uncle and cousin work with me in the studio and my mother comes and helps me cook – my auntie too.” Murillo’s past exhibitions have included “events” where his family “play themselves”. “They are not performers, more a re-enactment of who we are and what we do.”
Murillo studied at the Royal College of Art and says this period was important to him, even if as something to react against. He recalls insisting that his seminar would be held in the local chicken shop, admitting his peers “found it very offensive”. He wanted to use the detritus of life in his work, asking the owner to make a bin with one of his canvases to collect the rubbish in, something that he now has translated into his studio practice.
At this point, we decamp across the street to see the practice in action. We walk down a side passage into a surprisingly small space – Murillo’s works can be very large – where his cousin and uncle are casting some of the cannon balls in concrete that will feature in his forthcoming show at the South London Gallery. On the wall hang some of his paintings, unstretched, slightly grubby looking, their surfaces enlivened with words familiar from past works – coco, yoga or chorizo.
He breaks off our conversation to discuss something with his helpers who are un-moulding some of the balls and preparing others, lacing them with the debris of past paintings and dirt from the floor.
I point at the dirt, created in the making of the cement, being transplanted to the canvas, and he says, “Most painters are terrified of painting in the same space where they are eating, sleeping and defecating. This is my idea of how the work progresses.” As I leave, I ask if his uncle and cousin help with the paintings, and his answer is a brisk: “When it comes to making the paintings, that’s my job.”
Oscar Murillo: if I was to draw a line, this journey started approximately 400 kilometres north of the equator, South London Gallery, London SE5 (020 7703 6120) 20 September to 1 December
UPDATED: Oscar Murillo’s $800,000 Week in New York
The Sotheby’s work.
“There’s a lot of money to be made trading Oscar Murillo at this point,” Kenny Schachter told Katya Kazakina in her profile of the 27-year-old artist last week. Boy, that’s an understatement! Today and yesterday, a couple of untitled works by Mr. Murillo from last year came up at auction here in New York, and both sold for double their high estimates. These two lots come on top of a third Murillo that set a new record for the artist last Thursday at Phillips at $401,000, ten times over its high estimate.
The first, at Sotheby’s “Contemporary Curated” auction, sold yesterday for $197,000, with premium. It had been estimated to sell for between $60,000 and $80,000.
The second sold today at Christie’s “First Open” sale, and though its estimate was slightly lower ($50,000 – $70,000) it sold for around the same amount $195,750, with premium.
That Mr. Murillo only doubled his high estimate shows a degree of logic exists in his bonkers market. This past June Mr. Murillo exceeded a high estimate by a factor of eight in London when a piece of his sold for $389,199, his previous auction high.