Murillo Chocks Gallery With Chocolates

New York -- Hordes of people showed up last week to see the artwork of 28-year-old Oscar Murillo. Inside, they found a chocolate factory.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network were on-hand to greet Murillo, an emerging contemporary art star.

Last September, one of his abstract paintings sold for $401,000 at Phillips auction house in New York; the seller purchased it for about $7,000 in 2011. That same month, the artist joined the David Zwirner gallery, which represents postwar masters Donald Judd and Dan Flavin.

Following such swift success, Murillo’s debut at Zwirner doesn’t include what he’s best known for: abstract paintings.

The Colombian-born artist instead has transformed a cavernous gallery into an operating candy factory, replicating the one in his hometown of La Paila, where several generations of his family, including his parents, had worked. In this gallery-turned-factory, 13 workers from his native country are producing about 7,000 chocolate-covered marshmallows each day.

Art School

The buzz generated by Murillo, who was cleaning offices to put himself through art school less than three years ago, has been intense.

His auction prices are ahead of his contemporaries, artists born in the 1980s, with some surging as much as 5,600 percent in two years as a result of frenzied art flipping.

Since last May, 36 of Murillo’s works generated $6.3 million in sales at auction, the highest total for his peer group, according to a price database published by Artnet Worldwide Corp.

Five Murillo paintings, estimated to sell collectively for as much as $500,000, will be offered during postwar and contemporary auctions in New York next month, three at Christie’s International Plc and two at Phillips.

Elements of South American culture -- food, music, language -- populate Murillo’s art, including performance, film, installation, publishing, painting and sculpture.

Childhood Friends

The candy factory idea “isn’t so much about any kind of factory but the relationship this factory had with my family over time,” Murillo said during an April 23 press preview.

Colombina, the food company that operates the factory, is the largest employer in La Paila, where Murillo lived until he was 10 and moved with his family to the U.K.

Several of the workers in the show, titled “A Mercantile Novel,” are Murillo’s childhood friends, the London-based artist said.

Murillo’s shows draw on his life experiences, said Kim Donica, a gallery spokeswoman. In the New York show, “it was conscious not to include paintings, but this was a show that didn’t need paintings and was not an intentional reaction to the auction market,” she said in an e-mail.

Conveyor Belt

Near the gallery’s entrance, four flat screens mounted on a wall show footage of a candy-making conveyor belt and changing scenes of workers exploring Manhattan.

One wall displays an enlarged photo of his mother napping at work. Another wall is painted blue and features a framed life-sized employment certificate belonging to his father.

A stack of metal crates in the center of the room is filled with the chocolate coated marshmallows called Chocmelos. Murillo designed the silver wrapping stamped with a yellow smiley face. Visitors can take the candy for free through the show’s run through June 14.

The crates filled with Chocmelos are for sale at $50,000. On the opening night, top New York collectors were spotted grabbing and pocketing Chocmelos.