5 artists under 30 – Chapter 4: Latin America



This week’s analysis of the global art market’s ‘youngstars’ focuses on Latin America, and once again our search looks at the best auction results over the past 18 months for artists under 30. Although we have identified five young signatures from Latin America, the results are overwhelmingly dominated by one artist who has rocketed to stardom: Oscar Murillo.

Oscar Murillo (born 1986, Colombia)
Oscar MURILLO’s auction turnover for the last 18 months amounts to over $5.8 million from 40 lots sold. This compares with turnover totals of between $500 and $3,000 for the other Latin American artists born in the 1980s and whose works are presented only occasionally in auction salesrooms. Born in Colombia and living in London, Oscar Murillo is one of the most coveted emerging signatures on the international art market thanks to a solid network of influence constructed in less than two years.
The key steps in Murillo’s dazzling ascension can be retraced in just a few points. In December 2011, the Francis Ghebaly gallery from Los Angeles presented 15 canvases at the NADA Art Fair Miami at prices ranging from $2,500 to $8,500 and they all sold proving that demand already existed. The following year, he was invited to the Serpentine Gallery by curator Hans Ulrich Obrist. Thus endorsed by one of the world’s most influential art critics, his work began to infiltrate prestigious private collections. Between December 2012 and August 2013, he enjoyed a solo exhibition at the Rubell Foundation in Miami. The 50 canvases exhibited were the result of a five-month residency supported by the influential collectors Mera and Don Rubell. His entry into the auction arena was strategically planned during this exhibition. In turn, the three most important auction houses for Contemporary art, Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips, included Murillo’s creations in their catalogs. As of May 2013, Murillo became unavoidable in Contemporary sales in London and New York and his hammer prices built up through the year: in total 24 paintings and 1 sculpture sold for prices ranging from $26,000 to $148,000 and not a single work remained unsold. Murillo was clearly “the artist of the moment” to buy. In September 2013, another key career move was made public: he joined ranks with the David Zwirner gallery. The news quickly spread among collectors and the impact on auction prices was immediate. On September 19, 2013, Phillips in New York sold a canvas (Untitled (Drawings off the wall) for $330,000 ($401,000 including fees), which was 11 times its low estimate. That was a record for the artist who now has three results above $300,000 to his name. In New York, David Zwirner gave Murillo a solo exhibition entitled A Mercantile Novel (24 April – 14 June 2014) ahead of a busy agenda for the rest of this year that includes an exhibition at Marian Goodman in New York (We don’t work Sundays, 23 May – 18 July), an exhibition focusing on Latin American art at the Saatchi gallery in London, and other shows in the Netherlands (Amsterdam), Italy (Turin) and France (Rennes).

Judging from the auction results, Oscar Murillo is an isolated phenomenon among emerging Latin American artists. The four other best-selling young LatAm artists have not enjoyed anywhere near the same degree of demand and their results are meager in comparison: the Cuban artist Denys MOLERIO PENA (born 1988) has had a couple exhibitions in Havana and in France, and two of his paintings have sold in Warsaw in 2014. He does not have Murillo’s stature and has not yet proved himself in the public sales arena. Likewise for the Mexican Ana Sada ZAMBRANO (born 1984): with just one sale in Mexico ($810, Garza Garcia auction house, May 23, 2013), she is known only to a few local amateur Contemporary art collectors and has a hundred or so likes on her Facebook page. At the same sale, a painted case by her compatriot Gonzalo GARCIA (born 1985) fetched the equivalent of $567. The last artist on our list is the Brazilian Walter ROCHA (born 1984). His work has been offered at auction sales six times through the company Tableau Arte & Leilões in Sao Paulo, but none of his paintings have ever sold above $200.
Demand for Latin American artists clearly depends on recognition via the international networks of influence, as is the case for Murillo and some of the older Latin American artists like Antonio Malta Campos (Brazilian, born 1961) and Rafael Gómezbarros (Colombian, born 1972) who were both selected for the Saatchi gallery’s Pangaea exhibition (April 2 – November 2, 2014). Both are supported by marketing that is essential for their recognition and although neither artist has any public sales to his name.