Where Is the Market for Oscar Murillo Three Years After His Blazing Debut?

He was a poster boy for emerging artists.

Oscar Murillo, meet me! Mr. Superman, 2013–2015.

Known as a phenomenon in the heated market for emerging artists just a few years ago, Oscar Murillo‘s auction status has seen a distinct cooling since 2013, as revealed by data from artnet’s Price Database.

At New York’s David Zwirner Gallery, titled “through patches of corn, wheat and mud” (September 14–October 22), the Colombian-born, London-based artist returns for his second solo show at the Chelsea space to present new “paintings, drawings, sculptural elements, and film,” according to the press release. Will this show give his market a much-needed boost?

The artist burst into the news in September 2013 when his work Untitled (Drawings Off the Wall), went for an eye-popping $401,000 at Phillips New York. It remains the auction high for the artist, who was just 27 at the time. Some two dozen of his works went to auction that year, and 19 of them sold for north of $100,000. The young artist had been mounting solo shows since 2011, when he had no fewer than four in London, having earned a BFA from the University of Westminster in 2008.

His 2014 debut at Zwirner took a turn, with no salable works displayed, in favor of a miniature factory churning out marshmallow chocolate candies. Critics didn’t take kindly to the show, which represented an attempt to demonstrate the artist’s chops in performance and participatory art, but was widely viewed as an “ill-conceived stunt.”

Murillo’s sales have never again reached that high, though his paintings have remained steady at around $300,000, according to the graph below.


Our price index for Murillo indicates the changes in price that would be paid for an artwork that is representative of the artist’s market, or for an “average” artwork. (For a more detailed explanation of our methodology, see Bocart, F. Y., & Hafner, C. M. (2015). Volatility of price indices for heterogeneous goods with applications to the fine art marketJournal of Applied Econometrics30 (2), 291-312.)


Other market metrics, though, indicate a significant decline. Many sellers aimed to take advantage of the success of the works that came under the hammer in 2013; 31 of his works came to auction in 2014, up from 24. That number fell to 20 in 2015. With more than half of 2016 behind us, just six works have hit the auction block.


Without a repeat of the astronomical high achieved in 2013, when the artist’s auction sales totaled just under $4.9 million, the artist’s total sales dipped distinctly in 2014 and 2015, topping out at just shy of $3.7 million in 2014 and about $2.9 million in 2015.

As we head into the fall season of 2016, only $150,125 worth of Murillo works have sold in the secondary market.


Another key metric, known in the field as the “sell-through rate,” or what percentage of works offered at auction find buyers, paints an even more unflattering picture. While every single Murillo that came to market in 2013 found a new home, that rate dipped to a still-healthy 85 percent in 2014; 2015 saw the rate drop to 65 percent, and 2016 saw it drop to just 33.3 percent.

All the same, the artist has appeared in major international shows such as the 2015 Venice Biennale, “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World,” at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2014, as well as, this year, the Marrakech Biennale and the Biennale of Sydney.

And, while auction sales are an important metric, they’re not the whole story; by placing Murillo in its first slot of the fall season, Zwirner certainly exhibits faith in the artist’s market. And this time, he’s not just selling chocolates.

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