Contemporary Art: Just Fluff? LOL. Seriously, it's Marshmallows
Have it at David Zwirner.
Recently, the Daily Beast’s Justin Jones described Oscar Murillo’s new solo exhibition, A Mercantile Novel, at David Zwirner’s 19th Street location as “The Tastiest Art Exhibit.” I am being serious. Click the link; he called it that.
Realizing that I hadn’t felt true crippling depression in several months, I decided to check out the opening reception on Thursday, April 24. For the exhibition, Murillo has recreated a candy-making factory inside the gallery in collaboration with Colombia-based confectionary giant Colombina, a company for which many of his family members have worked in the past. According to Zwirner’s website, “Tens of thousands of candies will be produced and given away for free… Visitors and volunteers are invited to take candy and share it throughout the city’s five boroughs, whether on foot, by bike, by taxi, by subway, by bus, etc., thus reflecting all modes of typical transportation throughout New York City and the diversity of its communities.”
OK, sure. I mean, personally I think it’s fucked-up and insensitive to lump typical transportation methods like wheelchairs, Razor Scooters, Segways, and Dodge Durangos under the broad banner of “etc.,” but I guess maybe that’s just my own shit, man.
For the opening, artist Chloe Wise bravely served as my sidekick. Chloe makes an impeccable wingperson as she is a Jewish Canadian who fills tampons with weed and quinoa and also shoots Drake music videos with her parents. Her piece “Star of Larry David” from the Last Brucennial is truly insane.
Star of Larry David, by Chloe Wise
As we approached Zwirner’s 19th Street location, spilling into the street outside the behemoth gallery space were hundreds of drunken art-world Chads and Katelyns. They slugged Stella Artois, craning their necks around one another trying to spot micro-celebrities or somebody who might let them do a sex or two on them later. We knew beforehand that it would be exactly like this, so we’d made sure to give ourselves some liquid armor during a two-for-one happy hour at some East Village bar, the theme of which was equal parts reclaimed lumber and in-house-crafted Chauncey. The patio was cool, though.
It was approximately 7:45 PM, and the reception had begun about but two hours prior. It became immediately apparent that these motherfuckers had torn through Zwirner’s entire beer supply. The sidewalks were lined with scores of Stella bottles, nearly unrecognizable, their labels torn and picked at viciously by sweaty hands plagued with the cocaine shakes. We ran into some people that Chloe knew, and as they exchanged pleasantries in the way that one does at an art opening, I noticed a gourmet-burger food truck parked outside called Frites 'N’ Meats. Their menu is pretentious as all fuck, reading as if it were born of an ayahuasca-induced night terror in which the Winklevoss twins have purchased Bob’s Burgers.
For example: "The Ploughman—Seasoned Grassfed Angus Patty, Gruyere & Cheddar Cheese, Savory Onion Jam & Homemade Sassy Slaw."
Sassy Slaw that is homemade!
If you look up their website (a Blogspot, LOL), each week’s post includes a location schedule followed by several interesting tags. Here are my favorites: "Best NYC Food Truck," "Best Trucks," "Burger," "Cater," "Catering," "Catering Truck," "Events," "Festival," "Food," "Food Truck Lot," "Holiday," "Holiday Party," "Mobile Devices," "New York City," "Party," "Sponsorship," "WFC," "World Financial Center."
I fucking hate food trucks. I don’t exactly know why, but the aforementioned blog tags probably have something to do with it. Food trucks look like somebody smooshed a restaurant a whole bunch until it was shaped like a choad and then decided to glue wheels onto it. They always have some terrible name emblazoned on them like “Fried Egg, I’m in Love” (that is a real food cart in Portland, OR, in case you were in a good mood before reading this). I want to start a Southern-comfort-food-themed truck for people who suffer from celiac disease called “Gluten-Free Bird.” I fucking hate myself.
We managed to make our way inside by screedling quickly this way and that (a difficult task with so many bodies packed together). Chloe is thin, which proved highly advantageous under these circumstances. I myself am a small man and am accustomed to crawling between people’s legs on subways and escalators, or as a means to escape a social practice dinner. I saw some real nice suits on a couple of the fellas, and you just knew that they were def DTF. There were several boxes, totally sitting all casual as balls on tables, filled with chocolate-covered marshmallows produced by a team of “experienced candy-making employees going about their daily work as usual.” It is my understanding that these are 13 Colombians flown in from Murillo’s hometown of La Paila, friends and family who work for the Colombina company.
I’ve heard many people criticize the decision to bring these workers into the gallery, as it has an uncomfortable undertone of likening them to commodified art objects. Those of a different opinion argue that their visibility forces the audience to confront their own relationships to international labor and trade in a critical light. Isn’t art cool?
Murillo designed a custom silver package for the candy, featuring a play on the traditional Colombina packaging, that includes his own rendition of the ubiquitous smiley face seen on plastic bodega bags all over New York. I thought these looked pretty neat as objects, and Chloe said that the candy was delicious. I did not eat any because they’re chocolate-covered marshmallows and I think marshmallows are fucking revolting. I do not like Peeps or Mallomars or s’mores or Moon Pies, and I really hate Lucky Charms, and I think that Kraft Marshmallow Creme can go and get fucked. Everyone else liked the candy, though.
For the run of the show, the workers will churn out thousands of candies using a ginormous and really kewl-looking steel assembly-line machine, also imported from the Colombina plant. Generally, visitors won’t be permitted behind the large, blue plastic curtain dividing the gallery space from where the candy is actually made, except during the workers’ break times. But at the opening reception, no candy was being produced, so Chloe and I got to see where the magic happens. There were huge Colombina logos on the walls and the machine that makes the candy looked totally awesome but not like steampunk at all. Can you imagine a steampunk candy factory? Just shit tons of gears everywhere and workers with monocles making candy inside a brass and copper dirigible. They’re watching The City of Lost Children on repeat all day while criticizing touch-screen technology and people who do not wear spats. They fly over cities that use electricity and oil and are just like judging everybody so hard.
I saw some people that I knew and talked to them for a little bit, and everyone who wasn’t a Chad or a Katelyn seemed to be like, “Um, I mean, I don’t know. I’m not really into this.” It didn’t sound like anybody outright hated the show or the idea behind it, but it’s like a little difficult to take seriously an exhibition that claims that the “Colombina factory becomes a catalyst for a consideration of socio-economic conditions in the United States, Colombia, and beyond, while also inviting visitors to reflect on the nature of societies, both personal and universal.”
The reason that this is difficult to take seriously is because it’s at David Fucking Zwirner. It’s not like DZ and I text each other on the regs, but I can say pretty certainly that critically highlighting the disparities between different socioeconomic classes of individuals isn’t exactly a consistent theme in his programming or his personal politics. IDK, maybe that Jeff Koons Gazing Ball show was like about the balls being mirrors and we look at them and in the reflective surface of a one-percenter’s art practice we’re confronted with the abysmal existence we experience as the proletariat. Yeah, that’s probably it.
What fucking sucks is that I really, honestly, like Oscar Murillo’s paintings. Oscar, if you’re reading this, I don’t really give a shit if people say your paintings are derivative of Joe Bradley or Basquiat. And I definitely don’t give a shit that you’re championed by art flipper Stefan Simchowitz or that your works are currently fetching staggering sales prices at auction before you’re even 30 years old. Good on you, dude. Make your paper, booboo. These issues are the concern of people who are actual arts writers and not me. You seem like a cool dude who just lives in London with your wife and kids and really gets off on painting. The idea to do this candy factory probably seemed like a really novel and cool one, even if people complain that Dieter Roth already did a candy factory or that Rirkrit Tiravanija also gives away food and it’s lame. I mean, Rirkrit Tiravanija is definitely lame, but whatever. Your project was fucked from the start because of the fact that it was in David Zwirner.
UGH. All those fucking ghouls eating the candy don’t give a flying fuck about the work, or the politics, or the packages of sweets making their way throughout the five boroughs in a subversion of socioeconomic borders normally policed by rent prices, gentrification, and all things abject. David Zwirner has managed to turn something ostensibly thoughtful and generous into another butt-sucking spectacle with absolutely zero cultural value.
But what the fuck should Chloe and I have expected in choosing to attend this opening? The joke’s on us. This show isn’t really any different from the massive perversion of Yayoi Kusama’s practice last fall. Dumbfucks waited in the blistering cold for hours for the privilege of standing inside one of her "Infinity Rooms" for 45 seconds (likely determined by gallery staff to be the exact length of time it took to snap a Tinder selfie) while an entire exhibition of her paintings hung in vapid loneliness throughout the unpopulated, empty caverns of the rest of the massive gallery. As people walked out of their momentary engagement with her installations, they paused for a few brief seconds to gawk at her brilliant Manhattan Suicide Addict video work, ultimately dismissing it as too weird and moving on to whatever the fuck Larry Gagosian’s army of assclowns offered as the other thing your friends checked in to on Facebook. Murillo’s opening felt similarly depressive. Visitors made sure to get a package of the candy, post it to Instagram, and then moved out into the street to chug Stellas and argue over whether Half King was a cool or a stupid place to be seen getting a drink.
Mr. Zwirner, I’m familiar with your history, and you’ve inarguably done some really cool shit. Further, you’ve honestly done an impressive amount of philanthropy. But dude, come on—how the fuck are you gonna act like this is in the best interest of Murillo’s sustained career? How is this a thoughtful piece of programming that gets your massive audience thinking about labor politics? I know it’s not necessarily your job as a commercial enterprise to critically engage these issues, but you’re in an obscenely unique position to do so. Larry’s certainly not going to take the lead on this. I don’t have the answer for how you could actually accomplish a positive social impact, if that’s what you’re aiming to do, but you’re a whole lot fucking smarter than I am.
Sean J Patrick Carney is a concrete comedian, visual artist, and writer based in Brooklyn. He is the founder and director of Social Malpractice Publishing and, since 2012, has been a member of GWC Investigators, a collaborative paranormal research team. Carney has taught at Pacific Northwest College of Art, the Virginia Commonwealth University, the Bruce High Quality Foundation University, and New York University. Follow him on Twitter, here.