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.
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 (As 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).
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 March 7, at noon, there were indeed eight canvases back on view.
Actually other fonts say:
Ms. Doyle said that the painting was unharmed, adding that “no action such as an arrest was taken.” The painting was returned to the floor of the gallery, where, she said, “the museum will assure that there is the appropriate level of security in the exhibition.” She did not say how the museum was able to identify the person who took the work, describing that as a “security matter.” Ms. Doyle cited the same reason in declining to say how long the painting was missing and whether it was returned by the same person who took it.
The removal and return of the work, which was reported by artnet.com, left lingering mysteries. Who removed the canvas? And what became of that person?
A search through emails describing serious crimes that the Police Department sends each day to news organizations did not include an indication of any theft of an artwork since the beginning of the month. A police spokesman said Saturday night that he had no immediate information about a stolen painting.
Museum officials would not identify the person who took the painting. Neither would a representative of Mr. Murillo’s dealer, David Zwirner.
Mr. Murillo, who is not yet 30 and has been referred to as “the 21st-century Basquiat,” had a rapid rise in the art world. Just a few years ago, he was waking up near dawn to clean office buildings and earn money to pay his tuition at the Royal College of Art in London. More recently, collectors have paid six figure for his paintings.
Ms. Doyle said that the painting would remain in its spot on the floor until the exhibition, “The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World,” closes on April 5.
Instagrammers Step on Oscar Murillo at MoMA