Venice

View of “Oscar Murillo,” 2022. Photo: Bowditch, Lismanis, and Russell.

View of “Oscar Murillo,” 2022. Photo: Bowditch, Lismanis, and Russell.

Oscar Murillo

Scuola Grande della Misericordia

Oscar Murillo’s exhibition “A Storm Is Blowing from Paradise” took its evocative title from the ninth of Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (1940). The show’s point of departure was Frequencies, 2013–, displayed alongside an array of new works especially conceived for this exhibition. Frequencies is a colossal work in progress, ongoing for nearly a decade now, in which Murillo and his collaborators visit schools around the world and affix blank canvases to the desks of pupils. Ranging in age from ten to sixteen, the students are prompted to express themselves freely on these virgin surfaces. So far, the process has involved one hundred thousand students from more than four hundred schools in thirty-four countries. The result: a transnational archive of approximately forty thousand items, inscribed with the dreams, ambitions, desires, and aspirations of a whole generation.

Frequencies was first presented at the Fifty-Sixth Venice Biennale in 2015, and it recently returned there to be displayed in its (ever growing) entirety for the third time following a 2021 presentation organized by Artangel at a secondary school in London. While painting is central to Murillo’s artistic strategy, anyone familiar with his practice knows that it hinges on radically reworking the spaces in which he intervenes. I am thinking, for example, of the equally powerful “Condiciones aún por titular” (Conditions Yet to Be Defined), which recently closed at the Museo de Arte de la Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá. Murillo’s works take shape as intermedia devices; paintings on the wall alternate with canvases suspended from the ceiling or with structures that one can walk through and inhabit. Here, too, he succeeded brilliantly in contending with the challenging spaces of a historic sixteenth-century Venetian building designed by Jacopo Sansovino, with frescoed ceilings attributed to the school of Paolo Veronese.

The Frequencies archive of canvases was arranged on tables and shelves on the Scuola Grande della Misericordia’s ground floor, alongside a collection of wearable sculptures from the “Arepas y Tamales” series, 2022, named after two typical Colombian dishes. In these works, Murillo appropriated motifs and designs from the children’s canvases and transformed them into garments that visitors could try on digitally using video projectors that illuminated the walls and responded to movement in the space. The multichannel generative-sound installation Storm from Paradise, 2022—made up of layered recordings from locations such as schoolyards and basketball courts, and responding to live data tracking airplanes’ takeoffs, landings, and trajectories on global routes chosen by the artist—accompanied visitors throughout the exhibition.

On the upper floor, Murillo’s characteristic black canvases from the series “The Institute of Reconciliation,” 2014–, punctuated the space, which also contained works from the “Disrupted Frequencies” series, 2013–19. The artist created those pieces by sewing together multiple Frequencies canvases, on which he had intervened with his own energic blue-paint strokes. Finally, (untitled) surge, 2022, a nearly thirty-foot-wide painting inspired by Monet’s “Water Lilies,” functioned as a perspectival backdrop for the installation on the second floor. Building on the fact that Monet suffered from cataracts, the artist developed the concept of a “social cataract,” a disability that unfortunately seems increasingly to afflict us all: the inability to see the suffering of others.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.