As the global art market continues to expand and contemporary art sales in Brazil, China, Scandinavia, and the Middle East are on a consistent upswing, a new world competitor is emerging: Colombia. One of the most important artists to have come out of the country is sculptor and painter Fernando Botero, whose bulbous human figures are both humorous and rife with political symbolism. Though Botero is still alive, he’s certainly of an old guard. Today, a rich array of contemporary artists are producing work that is both aesthetically stimulating and engaged with the country’s rollercoaster of a political history.
The youngest of these stars is Oscar Murillo, who has been considered a young Basquiat. Inflected with the artist’s experiences as a child in the small Colombian town of La Paila, Murillo’s neo-expressionist works have become popular among major collectors since he was picked up by David Zwirner in 2013. London auction houses soon followed suit, notably, selling his work for over $300k.
In recent years of relative peace, the country’s economic health has advanced, which is always good news for the art market. While older figures like Doris Salcedo have built careers with their direct and politically charged provocations, emerging artists have been engaging with the country’s past in the form of affirmative, high energy work. And collectors are paying attention, evidenced by the need for ARTBO, Bogotá’s international fair, which opens its 10th edition next week.
Gabriel Sierra, who studied industrial design in Bogotá, began showing in the early 2000s; his work explores the strange and often humorous spatial relationships in cities and nature. Elías Heim, a conceptual artist who’s a bit older at 48, has a three-point credo of subjects: “...the faith-religious, the scientific, and the artistic.” There’s also Mateo López, who graduated art school in 2003 and has work in MoMA’s permanent collection. López’s installations explore art’s relationship to time and the boundaries between the organic and artificial. With a different mode of practice is Monika Bravo, who creates massive video installations that challenge visual perception and suggest the feelings of a lucid dream or psychedelic trip.
All of these artists were producing intriguing works before Colombia’s influx of new art collectors began. But now, they’re in luck. According to a recent Wall Street Journal piece, “at least 30 wealthy Colombian families are amassing notable collections of contemporary art, up from only five a decade ago.” This internal stimulation within Colombia has now captured the attention of the art world at large. It will be exciting to see how these artists develop as their work continues to spread internationally.