As a Hispanic, I have only experienced racism in the USA. As we all know, racism has many faces but when we are talking about the art world, the fashioning is subtle and usually, exploitative. In fact, I have the impression that the contemporary art world (as a place for the rich to gather) has increasingly become a source of authoritative experiences which are only legitimate because they (‘allegedly’) bridge the social divide. A couple of weeks ago, I had dinner with a friend and his boyfriend who is a member of the board of Performa in NYC. He, of course, dedicated half the meal to stress how forward looking, unorthodox and ‘thinking out of the box’ the events organised by them, were. There was a common denominator, though, and it had to do with an effort to disguise class differences and how the city was mapped according to those difference with the ‘experience of art’. In other words, he told me how fascinated he and his rich older female friends were at attending this and that performance in Queens or the Bronx because… it is the Bronx! It is obvious that artistic value, in those cases. was displaced to that ‘estranged and exotic’ experience that a rich (patron) who is always in a hurry might have in a poor area that otherwise, he or she would never visit. This is art as social tourism.

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It does not come as a surprise that David Zwirner and Marianne Goodman decided to represent two young Latinamerican Artists who come from poor (and dark) backgrounds and specialise in a kind of art in which social differences are thematised and objectified. Adrian Villar Rojas currently shows his ethically problematic documentary ‘Lo que el fuego trajo’ in Goodman’s new space in Paris. In that film, Villar Rojas pays homage to his assistants who are usually shipped from the poor areas of Argentina to the art world centres (Basel, NY, Paris and London) to physically assemble Villar Rojas’ post-apocalyptic ephemeral installations. Villar Rojas’ film romanticises the artist’s relationship with them as friendship when what really is going on is that costs are being cut. In other words, Villar Rojas pimps his own class and creates a multimedia show where the rich can experience in the safety of the ‘art bubble’ that poverty first hand.

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The case of Oscar Murillo is very similar. After joining David Zwirner’s gallery, the prices of his paintings increased far too fast to the point that he is currently presenting an installation/performance at 519 West 19th Street in New York in collaboration with Colombina, the premier food company in Colombia. The installation replicates (with labourers included) a candy factory in full details.

‘Now a global industry and one of the main exporters of candy to the United States, Colombina was founded under modest conditions in Murillo’s hometown of La Paila in the early twentieth century. It gradually became the connecting link in the surrounding area, fostering a community that expanded symbiotically as the factory grew in stature. Several generations of Murillo’s family, including his parents, have worked there in various capacities, and the artist, who was born in 1986 and moved to the United Kingdom in the 1990s, retains close ties to the site’.

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Even though the show is presented as an opportunity to assess the socio-economic conditions in the US, Colombia and beyond ‘while also inviting to reflect on the nature of societies both personal and universal’, the truth is that David Zwirner is, in fact, staging a themed park which theme is ‘poverty’. Staffed by experienced candy-making employees going about their daily work as usual, the production line at the gallery will manufacture one of Colombina’s signature candies, the Choc Melo, following the same recipe, ingredients, techniques, and quality control procedures as the facility in La Paila. Workplace signage and overall layout are further inspired by the factory, and Murillo has designed special packaging for the exhibition featuring the Colombina logo next to the iconic yellow smiley face seen on plastic shopping bags throughout New York City. Over the course of the exhibition, tens of thousands of candies will be produced and given away for free at the gallery. A special website, mercantilenovel.com, and complementary platforms on social media (Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) have been set up by the artist and gallery to track the project, shaping new communities in the process. The problem with this is the lack of engagement with an issue that is transformed into an Upper East (and West) Side spectacle. Just a thought.