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Art review: 'Oscar Murillo: Distribution Center' at the Mistake Room

A half-century ago, Andy Warhol named his studio the Factory so that people would stop thinking of contemporary art as an esoteric enterprise pursued by lone nuts in lonely garrets, and start thinking of it as an intrinsic part of everyday life — no more mysterious, nor difficult to enjoy, than the goods served up by modern industry.

For Warhol, art lost too much power when it got swaddled in sappy fantasies more appropriate to 19th century Romanticism than 20th century reality.

Those saccharine fantasies get resuscitated in “Oscar Murillo: Distribution Center.” The inaugural exhibition of the Mistake Room, Murillo's first solo show in Los Angeles wraps Warhol's unsentimental vision of art's place in life in the kind of naivete that would make him cringe.

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Murillo’s exhibition is a Mannerist mess. The long raw space is set up to resemble a busy workshop. Shiny steel crates are stacked here and there. Three videos, showing machines and workers at work, are projected on a wall. Atop several steel tables rest variously sized swatches of canvas. Some appear to be nearly finished paintings. Others look as if they have a long way to go.

Process, not product, is the point Murillo makes, rather heavy handedly. Think Cy Twombly on a very bad day, his deft touch replaced with ham-fisted brutality. Or Donald Baechler sans the dopey kick of playful innocence.

Murillo’s four finished paintings are equally anemic. Each large piece is less compelling than a single square inch of anything Jean-Michel Basquiat ever touched.

The exhibition goes to great lengths — not to mention great expense — to shroud the reality of labor in the fantasy of artistic redemption. That’s the opposite of what Warhol was up to. Unfortunately, it defines our times, a kind of gilded age on steroids, when the past gets repackaged as farce.

“Oscar Murillo: Distribution Center,” the Mistake Room, 1811 E. 20th St., Los Angeles, (213) 749-1200, through April 12. Closed Sundays-Tuesdays. Mistake Room

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