Oscar Murillo’ opens this weekend at the Saint Louis Art Museum

Seven huge new paintings by Colombian-born artist Oscar Murillo are on display at the Saint Louis Art Museum starting on Friday. Currents 121: Oscar Murillo includes an artist talk at noon on Friday March 18 and the exhibition will continue until August 28. The paintings, including a triptych, are visceral, physical and political.

Murillo created the works during the pandemic in his hometown of La Paila, Colombia. He worked out of a studio that he also operated as a food bank, says Hannah Klemm, associate curator of modern and contemporary art and curator of the exhibition with Molly Moog, research assistant in modern and contemporary art.

The paintings are part of an ongoing series called events (2018- ). The large-scale paintings wear the physical effort and labor of creating them proudly, with energetic reds, blues and blacks vigorously applied to canvases that literally smell of oil and are encrusted with tape and grime, says Klem. Murillo sewed canvases from a previous series, Catalyst (2017), rework and obscure his past work.

“A lot of people see them and think about Abstract Expressionism, and it’s kind of as far away from that as it gets – it tries to create the opposite of art for art’s sake,” Klemm explains. “Art exists in a market, in a system, in the economic world. He tries to show the work that exists in a painting. He sees it as work, rather than a burst of creativity.

For Murillo, says Klemm, art cannot exist outside of politics, outside of work, community and protest. He fights, she says, against a false sense of neutrality in art. “The word ‘protest’ in many Romance languages ​​is synonymous with protest,” Klemm explains. “The manifestation of political power, the opposition to this power, the ability to come together. It also translates into the bodily experience of protest, rally or resistance.

The past few years have seen uprisings in social justice and protest movements, as well as a reckoning with how work works in society during the pandemic-induced global hiatus, as well as class divisions laid bare by uneven return to work. Murillo, says Klemm, has “always been interested in how neoliberal systems mask reality. The pandemic took away some of that. The supply chain, the labor, the human cost – Oscar has been thinking about this for a very long time. The pandemic has allowed many more people to have that veil removed. »

In addition to the paintings, several pieces from another Murillo project, Frequencies, are exhibited in the galleries of the permanent collection. For this piece, the desks of schoolchildren between the ages of 10 and 16 were covered in canvas for several months, and the resulting works enter into its worldwide archive. (Students from St. Louis are currently participating in the project.)

“They are so different,” Klemm said. “There’s one I unboxed yesterday, someone had drawn a very clear rendering of the Taj Mahal. Another was just the names of all the people and the graffiti and the math equations.” To have this project as part of the exhibition, she says, was “really important for us as well because it really breaks down some of those hierarchies, to have works of 10 to 16 year olds, children, in the galleries. Artists start somewhere.


Currents 121: Oscar Murillo short From March 18 to August 28 inside Gallery 250 of the Saint Louis Museum of Art and Gallery 249 Gary C. Werths and Richard Frimel.


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Reggie S. Williams