María Sol Escobar

(About art, but not much about language, though categorization and labeling is a significant subtheme.)

William Grimes yesterday in the New York Times, “Marisol, an Artist Known for Blithely Shattering Boundaries, Dies at 85”

Marisol, a Venezuelan-American artist who fused Pop Art imagery and folk art in assemblages and sculptures that, together with her mysterious, Garboesque persona, made her one of the most compelling artists on the New York scene in the 1960s, died on Saturday in Manhattan. She was 85.

… María Sol Escobar, who adopted Marisol as her name when she began exhibiting in New York in the late 1950s, introduced a distinctive new element to the emerging Pop Art lexicon. Influenced equally by pre-Columbian art and the assemblages of Robert Rauschenberg, she began constructing tableaus of carved wooden figures embellished with drawings, fabric and found objects.

Marisol in 1964 with her sculpture “The Kennedy Family.”:

The photo shows Marisol over 50 years ago, as she was achieving her first great successes in the art world — and in the year when I first learned about her work, from a friend. I was 24 (more or less) and she was 34 (more or less), and I was delighted that someone so young was making their mark.

Marisol has always presented a classificatory conundrum for critics, who are given to wanting to draw clear lines between what is art and what is not: illustrations, cartoons and comics, caricatures, design, tattoos, collages, compositions in thread, yarn, or fabric, and much more is generally considered beyond the pale, except in special cases; photography and film are considered as separate media from drawing, painting, and sculpture; some classes of work are treated as not serious art, under various names  (folk art, outsider art, and, at first, before it was awarded a capital letter, Pop); works intended to be decorative, commercially persuasive, funny, politically charged, or sexually arousing are dubious in general, because they’re utilitarian, not pure art. And even within the narrow confines of particular critical taxonomies, there is often haggling about where particular works belong: is this really an Impressionist painting?

Marisol, with her mixed-media works, often in large installations, and her ironic eye, was a clear challenge from the beginning. From the Times:

Critics were puzzled. Was Marisol a Pop artist or not? The critic Lucy Lippard, in “Pop Art” (1966), said no, calling her work “a sophisticated and theatrical folk art” that had nothing to do with Pop. It was often overtly political and funny — “clever as the very devil and catty as can be,” John Canaday wrote in The New York Times of her 1967 exhibition featuring sculpture caricatures of the British royal family, President Lyndon B. Johnson and other eminent figures. [Back in the 60s, I decided that if Canaday panned it, it was probably worth paying attention to.] She drew on celebrity images, as well, creating sculptures of John Wayne and Bob Hope.

… Like [Andy] Warhol and his disciple Jeff Koons, Marisol was aloof and opaque, a master of the gnomic pronouncement.

More discussion, with further illustrations, in a 8/24/11 posting on this blog.

 

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