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Chocolate packages from Oscar Murillo’s recent exhibition at David Zwirner gallery (photo by Ben Sutton)

In a dispatch this weekend appearing in Artforum’s usually stultifying Scene & Herd blog, it was reported that artist Oscar Murillo had carried out an intriguing intervention at a party hosted by the Brazilian collector Frances Reynolds. Coinciding with the ArtRio fair, the celebration was meant to commemorate the conclusion of Murillo’s residency at Reynolds’s Rio de Janeiro mansion. And although a residency might connote a withdrawal from the world as usual, even a sense of artistic monasticism, Murillo turned the monk in the abbey into the skunk at the garden party, delivering a fiery speech that expounded upon Brazil’s “colonization”; in doing so he brought his host to tears and caused Tunga, a Brazilian artist represented by Luhring Augustine, to leave.

The speech’s turn came from the content of the residency itself, as Artforum correspondent Frank Expósito writes:

Upon arriving for the stay, Murillo had been struck by the fact that the house staff was predominantly black. He said he couldn’t ignore it. So the artist, dressed in a white jumpsuit, worked as a member of the house staff for the entirety of the residency.

If what preceded the speech is compelling (perhaps the most interesting work the artist has undertaken in his short yet meteoric career), the hectoring that followed his address at the Reynolds party beggars belief:

Guests tried to enjoy the outdoor party after the polemical address, but it wouldn’t be so easy. The once pristine jumpsuit, now dirty by the knees, swayed overhead as a reminder. Murillo stood firm amid a fray of questioning. “Do you even know who Paula Cooper is? Do you?” badgered collector Luiz Augusto Teixeira de Freitas, referring to successful social activists in the art world. “Do you know who Karl Marx is? Read it again,” pursued another. Murillo shook his head and responded to the questions about his integrity with more questions. “Do you know of any other artist coming from the working class in Latin America? Do you know how much Gabriel Orozco sells now?” The crowd could not be satiated. On my way out, David Zwirner’s Greg Lulay gave the artist a congratulatory hug.

I think it’s fair to say that Murillo’s labor-attuned gesture, though certainly not unprecedented in recent art history — Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s longtime Department of Sanitation residency and Fred Wilson’s “Guarded View” (1991) come to mind — represents a welcome transition away from the large and largely derivative canvases for which he has thus far been best known, and delivers more bite than the Chelsea chocolate factory that may have presaged this line of thinking.

And the community that so quickly lionized Murillo has more than earned his withering scrutiny, with Donald and Mera Rubell’s condescending remarks about the young artist in a New York magazine article this summer offering the most appalling example of the genre. (Sample quote from Mera Rubell: “People are always trying to figure out the power of the immigrant…The power of the immigrant is that they always show up. You don’t always know if you can deliver but you always show up. Oscar always shows up.”)

Unfortunately, his New York gallery, David Zwirner, did not have any more information about the Reynolds project when we reached out to them earlier today.

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Mostafa Heddaya

Mostafa Heddaya is the former managing editor of Hyperallergic.

17 replies on “Oscar Murillo Made His Collector Cry”

      1. uuuhh….Jackson Pollock was a legitimate artIst, with a SKILL SET, a great, innovative painter whose work to this day stands fresh and strong……giving whatever actions/behaviors he chose to indulge in, actual legitimate authority. Pollock was self invented/self realized quite the opposite from owing ones art world notoriety to that of being the pipe dreams of several hedge fund art flippers and the Rubells. There is no comparison.

        1. Not so much. It is obvious in his paintings that he struggled with the work. He stayed to long at the canvas. If it hadn’t been for Krasner (a much better painter I might add) Pollock would not be known to every art history student in the world today. However, Pollock did stay sober long enough to make one smart decision; fuck Peggy Guggenheim.

          1. comments steeped in ignorance concerning Pollock -not surprising though coming as they are from the dystopia of visual illiteracy we now inhabit. Krasner was nowhere near as good of painter- any serious painter would recognize this. Only an idiot would compare Murillo to Jackson Pollock. Struggle -and what good painter hasn’t? How about de Kooning -Excavation or Woman 1? Or the entire career/methodolgy of Lucian Freud? Pollocks Mural -painted in one session -really a struggle hahaha… -or Autumn Rhythm or One 31, Lavender Mist…. are you kidding me? Do you even have a clue as to what you are talking about? Its a bad day when people talk about their superiors with a contempt they haven’t earned.

          2. you are right I shouldnt have referred to WNN as an idiot -Robert Hughes’ favorite descriptive ‘idiotic imbecile’ would have been far more accurate.

          3. Us visually illiterate, idiotic imbeciles also have opinions. Pollock stayed to long at the canvas. Period. Those who have drank the kool aid can’t stand the fact that some of us choose to think for ourselves after suffering through years of abuse at the hands of the art thought police. The fact that your retort, “a typo- your best argument to date” demonstrates just how isolated one can get sitting in their own head. Plenty of great artists have been alcoholics. Pollock was not one of them.

          4. Clearly you dont know what you are talking about concerning Pollock. The murals of the summer of 1950 are all deftly painted and light in their touch -there is no revision in the work -its all one off- very spontaneous, beautiful command of line and density, -with a painting like Autum Rhythm stunning in the scale of its line and its overall openness -spareness. Then come the stain paintings which are also equally minimal and deft in how they are worked -very lightly painted- STAINED!–even the earlier work -Full Fathom Five -She Wolf/ Guardians of the Secret are not particularly worked over canvases. There are very few Pollocks of the major breakthrough drip period -painted mostly with sticks and turkey basters where large amounts of raw canvas -sized and unprimed, are not visible. If one were to actually criticize Pollock, that he overworked his canvases would not be an argument that could hold much water -but rather, simply betrays ignorance on your part when it comes to his work, to painting. Bottom line, its specious argument -utterly insipid. Claiming de Kooning -or even Hans Hoffman on occasion overworked a canvas -though doubtful -could at least be argued. With Pollock, you come off as simply ignorant. I’m not a huge Pollock fan btw -but I am conversant with the work and I respect it. And you know what? When it comes to painting I kinda know what I’m talking about. As for Pollocks greatness -I doubt your opinion really matters much-

            You remind me of
            ‘the way pygmies with their little poison spears
            strut around the carcass of a fallen elephant.
            “O Elephant,” they say,
            “you are not so big and brave today!”

            It’s a bad day when people speak of their superiors
            with a contempt they haven’t earned,
            and it’s a sorry thing when certain other people

            don’t defend the great dead ones
            who have opened up the world before them.
            And though, in the catalogue of my betrayals,
            this is a fairly minor entry,

            I resolve, if the occasion should recur,
            to uncheck my tongue and say, “I love the spectacle
            of maggots condescending to a corpse,”

          5. and btw -your Peggy Guggenheim comment -you even got that wrong: most historicaL accounts agree it never happened. The slight gossip that it did- that it happened once hinges upon what an unconsummated, drunken disaster it was -way after the fact of his becoming an artist of some renown. The irony of this rather lopsided repartee can’t be lost on anyone with a clue concerning painting: a discussion of Pollock’s painting skills/methodology in the context of Oscar Murillo’s utterly non-existent abilities when it comes to painting. It is an irony indeed, perched upon the precipice of what is completely laughable.

  1. I love that he says he notices that most of the household staff is black AND that he couldn’t ignore that. That’s a sign of a rigorous awareness allied with a sense of integrity. I wish more of us would stop treating collectors and wealthy buyers as if their politics don’t matter. They do.

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