Marisol Gets Renewed Attention at Pérez Art Museum Miami

This article is part of our latest special section on Museums, which focuses on new artists, new audiences and new ways of thinking about exhibitions.


MIAMI — In the 1960s, when Pop Art was first dazzling America, a sculptor known as Marisol flashed through the New York art scene like a long-arcing shooting star.

Her witty, blocky wooden figures of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson and their families; Hollywood celebrities like John Wayne and Bob Hope; and ordinary people drew raves in chic galleries and at the Museum of Modern Art. She hung out with Andy Warhol and may even have inspired some of his work.

She was profiled in The New York Times Magazine and appeared on the cover of Glamor magazine. Time magazine featured her sculptures on three covers. Life magazine named her one of its 100 young people on the rise.

But at her peak in 1968, Marisol pulled back and dropped off the public radar. She was gone for five years. “When she came back, the world had changed,” said Marina Pacini, a retired chief curator at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.

Marisol resumed work in her New York loft and was well regarded. But her flame never again burned so brightly. When she died six years ago, at 85, the obituaries read like introductions to a remarkable artist from long ago.

Now she’s back in the spotlight at the stunning bayside Pérez Art Museum Miami, a place that shows some of the best known modern and contemporary artists and celebrates a rainbow of artists, often not fully appreciated, from Miami, Latin America and the Caribbean. The exhibition opened April 15 and runs through Sept. 5.

Marisol shares the stage with Warhol — but instead of drowning her out, he amplifies her. They worked on some of the same subjects. He painted Jackie Kennedy. She sculpted the Kennedy family. He filmed Marisol. She portrayed him. They had an intriguing way of speaking a little and suggesting a lot that nurtured a sense of glamor and mystery and that some experts say Warhol may have picked up from her.

Jessica Beck, a curator at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, came up with the idea of ​​twinning the artists as a way of reintroducing Marisol and showing the overlap of ideas and influence. Her exhibition, “Marisol and Warhol Take New York,” ran for four months in Pittsburgh.

In Miami, the exhibition opens with photographs of Marisol and Warhol at the Empire State Building, a Marisol sculpture of two tourists returning home from France and a trademark Warhol repetitive-image painting of the Statue of Liberty.

A few feet away is Marisol’s rendition of Warhol. He’s in a white shirt and dark slacks, sitting with one leg crossed, in a straight-backed chair.

Just around a corner, the show explodes with an electrifying wall of bright yellow Warhol cow heads stampeding in rows across a deep blue background. The cow wallpaper tugs the eye toward a handful of Marisol sculptures.

Her John Wayne gallops stiff-backed on an elongated red carousel pony, a silver six-shooter held high. The Kennedys stand at attention, a long row of Warhol portraits of Jackie behind them.

The centerpiece is Marisol’s “Dinner Date”: two women at a tiny table, staring blankly ahead, preparing to dig into TV dinners. Both look like Marisol. She is having dinner with herself.

Nine short Warhol movies run nonstop. You see Marisol clowning around with “Dinner Date” on the flickering screen. Then you’re standing beside it. The camera zooms in on Marisol’s ruby ​​red lips. Across the room you see the same ruby ​​red lips in Warhol’s portrait of Elizabeth Taylor.

“The films bring the exhibition to life,” Ms. Beck said. “They show the connection.”

Marisol was born Maria Sol Escobar in Paris to wealthy, globe-trotting Venezuelan parents. She compressed her first name to Marisol, and eventually dropped the family name, she said in the Times Magazine article, “to stand out from the crowd.”

Her mother committed suicide when she was 11, and Marisol stopped talking. She gradually started again, but rarely said much and was given to long silences. “She had a soft voice and a slight accent,” said Avis Berman, a New York arts writer, recalling an interview with Marisol in 1983.

At 20, Marisol dived into Abstract Expressionism in New York. But she shifted to sculpture. “Everything was so serious,” she said in the Times Magazine article. “I was very sad myself and the people I met were so depressing. I started doing something funny so that I would become happier — and it worked.”

Most of Marisol’s work looked far different from the slick, commercial, graphic art productions of Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg and other Pop stars. Yet she was magnetic. “You didn’t have to know anything about Pop Art, about any movement, about feminism, you just responded,” Ms. Pacini said.

In 1968, Marisol headed for the prestigious Venice Biennale and the documenta in Germany as a featured artist. Instead of returning to New York, she explored Asia, poked around Latin America and went scuba diving in Tahiti.

Her outlook changed. “I am not working for the general public anymore,” she told Cindy Nemser for her 1975 book, “Art Talk.” “I’ve lost interest in them.”

Marisol bequeathed her New York loft, about 150 sculptures and all her other art to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY, the first museum to buy one of her sculptures. The museum is organizing a huge Marisol show for fall 2023.

For art historians, artists and collectors like Jorge Pérez, the billionaire developer who donated tens of million of dollars to the Miami museum, Marisol, as Mr. Pérez put it the other evening, “never disappeared.”

“We all know her,” said Franklin Sirmans, the museum’s director. “That’s really the whole idea for the exhibition. We want everyone else to know her.”

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