Easily one of the most significant exhibitions within the Memphis this year is Marisol: Sculptures and Works on Paper at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. The project, taken on by Chief Curator Marina Pacini over the past nine years, is the first retrospective of Marisol featuring each medium the artist experimented in over four decades of creation. The Family (1969), part of the Brook’s permanent collection, sits prominently in the first room with The Hungarians (1955), Marisol’s earliest work in the exhibition. Pacini does an outstanding job placing Marisol into an art historical and social context, admitting that the exhibition is a significant attempt to re-establish Marisol as a prominent American, post-World War II artist.
Featured work is a balance of sculptures and two-dimensional works in four rooms. In an adjacent room, The Eclectic Sixties displays works of Marisol’s contemporaries from the Brook’s permanent collection. Artists include Louise Nevelson, Jim Dine, Edward Ruscha, Red Grooms and Andy Warhol, whom was friends with Marisol. Although showing great diversity of style and output, she was arguably a part of the Pop Art movement early in her career, sharing many of the themes associated with these artists and admitting the strong influence of the likes of Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg and Warhol. Marisol created the series Artists and Artistes, sculptural portraits of these influences, with both Andy (1962-3) and Magritte IV (1998) on display.
In the various themes and experimentation of mediums, portraiture and families are the most prominent motifs that tie Marisol’s series together throughout her lifetime. The sculptures are often minimal in structure but punctuated with personality of the individual they represent by carved heads, hands and feet. These features were often replicated from molds of Marisol’s own face, feet and hands indicating a continual search for her own self in the work and her local environment.
As interest in Marisol’s art gained momentum in New York, Marisol excluded herself from the art community by travelling abroad on two occasions with a significant change after the second hiatus in the late 1960’s. Her style and investigations shifted to a deeper introspection, new movement was not as well received. In the late 1970’s, her move back to prominent political and social figures rebounded but with an apparent lack of color and chic style as before. This sculpture looks more like her earliest and her interest moved towards a humanitarian look at the less fortunate.
Horace Pookaw (1993), is from the series of Native American that Marisol re-created from photographs as one example. Her latter sculptures are less bright in both personality and color and the ability to see this transition in a retrospective is impressive. For the viewer, themes become apparent in newer work that can found obscured in the older, indicating the cyclical nature of the creative process.
For the first time in seven years, Marisol has had a solo exhibition and the first to present the total combination of the mediums the artist experimented with. The exhibition has a rich biographical and historical information for nearly every work. As part of this, Pacini write two essays, accompanied by several others for the publication of Marisol: Sculptures and Works on Paper by the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art published by Yale University Press this year. Marisol: Sculpture and work on paper will travel to El Museo del Barrio in New York from October 8, 2014 to January 10, 2015.
By Jake Weigel