May 20, 2014

Oscar Murillo "A Mercantile Novel" @ David Zwirner

One of the pitfalls of working from home, especially when the weather is lousy, is the tendency to stay confined within a limited radius.  New York is a big city with many diverse neighborhoods most of which are just a bus or subway ride away.  So to celebrate this beautiful spring day and to see what all the fuss was about, I ventured down to Chelsea and explored some of the contemporary art galleries that now populate the area between 14th and 28th Streets from Tenth Avenue to the Hudson River.

Thanks in large part to the High Line (see my blogs of January 13, 2013 and January 1, 2010) and the profusion of apartment buildings, hotels, restaurants and boutiques that have sprung up around it, the area that was formerly known as the Meatpacking district is now one of the chicest and most expensive in Manhattan.  It has almost become a victim of its own success as galleries and artists who fled the high rents of SoHo, are now facing exactly the same situation in the territory that they pioneered 15 years ago.

But I digress.  Armed with a Chelsea Gallery Guide, I spent a very pleasant afternoon checking out some of the exhibitions and installations now on view, while marveling at the fabulous gallery spaces that showcase this contemporary art.

I saw some neat things but one show stood out above all the others.  Now on at David Zwirner is a large scale installation piece by the Colombian born artist Oscar Murillo entitled "A Mercantile Novel".  This tribute to the artist's homeland and childhood is a complete re-creation of a local candy making factory where several generations of his family, including his parents, were employed in various capacities.

The artist's mother, Virgelina Murillo (center) working
at the Columbina factory in La Paila, Colombia, in 1988

Created in co-operation with Colombina, one of the major food producers in Colombia, the art gallery has been transformed into a working candy factory, complete with skilled employees, a production line and special packaging for their signature "Chocmelos" confection!

The candy factory played an important role in Oscar Murillo's youth as it was the main employer and therefore a major part of the community in which he lived.  Although he left Colombia to study art in London, he retains strong ties to his homeland and uses art installations such as this one to honor his heritage while exploring themes of migration, displacement, globalization, community and relationships.

One can easily imagine this turning into a rant against big business and exploitation of the working classes, but that is not at all the case.  Rather, the chocolate covered marshmallows in their special smiley face packaging are being given away for free to gallery visitors who in turn are invited to pass them on and record their sharing experiences on special social media sites.

I certainly availed myself of these complimentary candies and I am sharing my experience with you now.  They are delicious!  And I would urge you to visit David Zwirner's gallery at 519 West 19th Street before June 14th so you can experience them for yourself!

P.S.  Another famous Colombian, race car driver Juan Pablo Montoya, will be defending his Indianapolis 500 title this weekend after a 14 year hiatus! 

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