Is The Latest Art Market Darling Destined For Failure?

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The art market is a weird, often depressing thing. I’ve got a friend–an artist who also collects with some regularity–who possesses a semi-uncanny ability to sense when some young thing is about to explode onto the radar, dollar signs flashing in their eyes. One of the emerging talents he was talking up (back during 2012’s Independent fair in New York) was Oscar Murillo, whose oft-repeated origin story cast him as a janitor-cum-painter who was suddenly creating a whole lot of buzz. I remember being thoroughly unimpressed with the canvases in question (Murillo is often pegged as the ‘next Basquait’ or, less kindly, as a sort of Basquiat retread or copycat).

A lot has changed since then, as Carol Vogel’s weekend profile of the artist in the Times makes clear, and it’s given fodder to plenty–like Gallerist–who seem unconvinced of Murillo’s staying power. His readymade rags-to-riches story is encapsulated early in the piece: “That night, after fierce competition, ‘Untitled (burrito)’ sold for $322,870, more than six times its high $49,000 estimate. Only two years ago, Mr. Murillo, who was born in Colombia, was waking up at 5 a.m. to clean office buildings to cover his expenses at the Royal College of Art in London.”

It will certainly be interesting to see what happens to this new guard of artists who, at least in some sense, seem to merely be along for the ride as sales skyrocket according to some enigmatic backroom mathematics. “But almost any artist who gets that much attention so early on in his career is destined for failure,” says Allan Schartzman, an art advisor quoted in Vogel’s profile. So where will Murillo be in 2024, both as an artist and as a commodity? What about the members of the Still House Group, or any of the other hot tickets whose buy/sell/hold status is tracked by the newly launched ArtRank (formerly Sell You Later), which is currently touting Sam Moyer and Zak Prekop as #1 best bets for the under $30K and under $10K budget, respectively? (By the way, the site is also urging followers to ‘liquidate’ their Murillo holdings).

And anyway, what does it say about our values as a culture that we even care so much about a 28-year old painter making comparatively ‘crazy’ money from their work, when in 2013 the average Wall Street bonus was $121,900?