I spent an afternoon wandering through Chelsea galleries. One of the stranger art exhibits I came across was in the David Zwirner Gallery space at 519 West 19th Street.
The artist, Oscar Murillo, who lives and works in London, has been called “a 21st century Basquiat”. Best known as a painter, Murillo has somehow installed a fully functional candy-making factory, workers and all, in the gallery space.
Murillo is originally from Colombia. His hometown is home to the factory of candy manufacturer, Colombina, and many people in the town, including Murillo’s parents, worked at the factory.
Now, when you open the doors to the gallery, you first see racks of candy packages.
The desk of the gallery workers has the usual literature on the exhibit and is also half covered in more packages of candy.
When you turn away from these candy wrappers, the first thing you see is a multi-screen video display,
A couple of the screens show a conveyor belt of chocolates.
The room opens up into a warehouse like space, in the middle of which sit containers of unwrapped candies and more wrapped candy
Along a side wall are Jeff Koons limited edition Dom Perignon boxes each with a drawing by Murillo inspired by a Jeff Koons balloon.
On another wall, there is an unexplained framed job application of Belisario Caicedo Florez, dated September 20, 1982.
But all the action is going on behind some shelving units full of boxes. Through the gaps, I see people in white uniforms and head coverings presumably at work making candy.
I am not allowed to go into the back factory area. Visitors are allowed in the factory in back between 1 pm and 3 pm when the workers are not making candy.
The gallery press release says: “by turning the gallery into a fully operational production site, [Murillo] opens up for consideration not merely . . . trade and globalization, but also . . . individual relationships and communities, roots and immigration.” Roberta Smith of the New York Times has a mixed review of the show. She says “there’s little that doesn’t feel obvious and generic in this laborious re-creation of life as art.” And while she finds the show overly “warm and fuzzy”, she says that the effort “deserves some credit for exposing, with unusual directness and resonance, the gaps created by race, class and nationality in an art gallery, one of the world’s more privileged spaces.”
For New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz, the show just represents one big disappointment. He points out that 28-year old Murillo is already selling artworks for a few hundred thousand dollars each, yet most people haven’t heard of him and don’t even know what his art looks like. Saltz was hoping to see paintings. He’s “not a chocoholic” and he doesn’t even “really like marshmallows”.
Did I say that viewers are allowed to take as much candy as they want? The candies are chocolate covered marshmallows, the signature candies of Colombina, called Chocmelos. The candy wrapper says “Made in Colombia by Colombina”—but it also says “Produced as part of A Mercantile Novel, 2014 by Oscar Murillo at David Zwirner Gallery”.
It is not the first time that candies have been featured in an artwork. Cuban-born artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres is perhaps best known for his 1991 sculpture which consists of a pile of individually wrapped candies on the floor in a corner of a room. Viewers are invited to take a piece of candy—making the art work something which changes and eventually disappears. The piece was a representation of the artist’s partner who was dying from AIDS.
Brazilian artist Vik Muniz makes giant paintings from chocolate syrup or sugar and then photographs them, turning the works into something more permanent and a more manageable and saleable size.
In 1961, the artist Piero Manzoni packed his own excrement into cans, signed them and sold them as art. Supposedly, no one opened the cans to verify the contents. They wanted to ensure that they maintained their value as art objects. In 2014, however, I opened the Oscar Murillo candy wrapper, removed the candies and gobbled them down.