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Oscar Murillo Mints Money With Scribbles, Dirt, Food

Oscar Murillo Mints Money With Scribbles, Dirt, Food

Two years ago, artist Oscar Murillo, now 27, cleaned offices to put himself through art school. His paintings sold for less than $3,000.

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.”

True enough.

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.

Next Basquiat!

“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.

Moving On

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.”

No Stopping

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.

Muse highlights include Manuela Hoelterhoff on books, Rich Jaroslovsky on technology.