Who Was Marisol, and Why Is Her Work Relevant Now?

Gaining Notice in New York

Marisol, The Hungarians, 1955Marisol, The Hungarians, 1955
Image Credit: Collection Buffalo AKG Art Museum
Bequest of Marisol, 2016. Artwork copyright © Estate of Marisol/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

In the early 1950s, Marisol saw a show of pre-Columbian art in New York and some carved figures while visiting her father in Mexico, both of which informed her work. Her first sculptures were terracotta and metal abstractions that resembled ritual objects. But she soon began creating the figurative wood sculptures that would make her famous.

Her work was included in a 1957 group show at Leo Castelli, along with work by Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and others. Castelli gave her a solo show later that year that featured terracotta pieces, carved reliefs, and sculptural tableaux, including The Hungarians (1955), a family of three on a wheeled metal cart, a subtle observation of the immigrant experience.

Overwhelmed by the New York art world and media attention, Marisol abruptly left the city and spent 18 months in Rome. When she returned, in 1960, she began casting her own body parts—out of convenience, she said—to use in sculptures that also featured reclaimed wood, drawing, and found objects. She would often use her own countenance in sculptures, whether carved, drawn, photographed, or cast in plaster.

Dinner Date (1963), for example, comprises two blocky wood figures, both with Marisol’s face, seated at an actual table, one with the artist’s feet cast in plaster, the other with cowboy boots. An untitled work from 1960–63 has two Marisol faces lip-locked in a sensual kiss, a motif that would reappear in other sculptures and in drawings. Works such as these seem to suggest a woman who is on her own in the world, and just fine about it.

Marisol met Andy Warhol in 1962, and they became good friends. For some years she was the better-known of the two. She made a sculpture of him, and he included her in a number of his experimental films, most notably Kiss (1964) and Marisol—Stop Motion (1964), in which she is seen among many of her works.

She had several shows in the 1960s, two at Stable Gallery and then, in 1966, with Sidney Janis, who would represent her until 1993. They were enormously successful, with thousands of people lining up to see her work, and museums and collectors snapping up pieces.

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