Oscar Murillo Painting Goes Missing From MoMA—Was it Theft?

Was a painting stolen from the Museum of Modern Art?

Oscar Murillo at MoMA.
Photo: artobserved.com

An Oscar Murillo canvas was taken from the exhibition “Forever Now: Painting in an Atemporal World” at MoMA last week by a visitor, a MoMA representative has officially confirmed. [This story has been updated. See below.]

“Last week, one was removed by a visitor,” press director Margaret Doyle told artnet News in an email.

Doyle further claimed that MoMA security identified the visitor and it was “quickly returned without incident or damage to the work” and that all eight of the canvases by Murillo in the show “are on view in the galleries.”

While yesterday afternoon, March 6, on our visit to MoMA, we spotted only seven of the canvases in the show. It is unclear whether or not the painting has in fact been returned to the floor. Has another one gone missing or been stolen?

artnet News’s sources also indicated that an Oscar Murillo canvas displayed on the floor in the exhibition had disappeared—that there were only seven on the floor though the wall label listed eight (see image below).

Murillo, the Colombian-born market phenom, is showing several of his trademark abstract paintings, marked with scribbles and often with the names of food items written on them, displayed on the wall. The museum has been showing eight (8) of the paintings on the floor, where visitors are free to handle them (see Instagrammers Step On Oscar Murillo at MoMA).

So what happened?

Letting visitors handle the canvases apparently left them vulnerable to, say, theft by a sticky-fingered visitor with a backpack while a guard was distracted. By comparing the paintings in the gallery with those on an illustrated checklist, a source concluded that the missing work is grid (2012-14).

Oscar Murillo at MoMA. Photo: Rozalia Jovanovic.

Installation view of Oscar Murillo’s canvases at “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World.”
Photo: Courtesy of artnet News.

The wall label, below, lists eight.

Oscar Murillo at MoMA. Photo: Rozalia Jovanovic.

Oscar Murillo at MoMA.
Photo: artnet News

Murillo has experienced a white-hot market ever since Miami collectors Mera and Don Rubell discovered his work at the Independent art fair in New York in 2012 at the booth of London dealer Stuart Shave (see 6 Weird Things the Rubells Told New York Magazine About Oscar Murillo). A show followed that winter at their collection during Art Basel in Miami Beach. In the space of a few months, in 2013, he saw his auction price soar from $37,500 (at his May 2013 auction debut at Sotheby’s) to $400,000 (at Phillips four months later). He’s represented by David Zwirner, who has galleries in New York and London.

Whether the thief knows specifically about Murillo’s high prices and hoped to cash in on the theft, or it was simply a prank, remains unknown.

Of course no scrupulous buyer would purchase the painting. If it was theft for profit, the thief would have to hope to find the sort of sinister buyer who may be displaying other priceless, stolen artworks like the Rembrandt seascape that went missing from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990.

UPDATE: As of today, March 7, at noon, there were indeed eight canvases back on view. See below image.

Installation view of "The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World.Photo: artnet News.

Installation view of Oscar Murillo’s canvases at “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World.”
Photo: artnet News.


For more artnet News Oscar Murillo coverage, see Oscar Murillo Installation Censored by Overzealous Museum Guard in Madrid.

For more stories about museums hit by theft, see:

Stolen Sculpture Found in Toilet of Paris Museum

Stolen Medardo Rosso Masterpiece Found in Museum Locker

$250 Million Turkish Museum Heist Was an Inside Job




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