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VOL. 129 | NO. 115 | Friday, June 13, 2014

Marisol’s World

Brooks Museum returns New York artist to spotlight

By Bill Dries

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When “Marisol: Sculptures and Works on Paper” opens Saturday, June 14, at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, sculptor Marisol Escobar will be at her New York home, where she spends much of her time, working occasionally 40 to 50 years after being in the spotlight of the art world.

Memphis Brooks Museum of Art collections manager/registrar Kip Peterson, left, and chief curator Marina Pacini discuss the placement of "Magritte IV," a Marisol sculpture completed in 1998.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

When it ends in early September, the retrospective curated by the Brooks will travel closer to Marisol, to the El Museo del Barrio in New York City.

“She lives in New York, but her health doesn’t permit,” said Marina Pacini, the chief curator at the Brooks, of a possible Memphis sojourn for the 84-year-old artist.

Pacini has spent nine years assembling the show and working with the artist and private collectors on a retrospective covering 1955 to 1998. It includes the sculptures for which Marisol was best known, as well as the drawings and prints that she often exhibited with her sculptures.

Pacini also wrote the exhibit catalog, co-published by Yale University Press.

Admission to the exhibit is free during Saturday’s opening.

Among the sculptures is “The Family.” It was the first work ever commissioned by the Brooks, a museum that opened in 1916 with no collection.

When the museum commissioned the Marisol sculpture in 1968, Memphis was a culturally and politically conservative city – at least on the surface. Just below the surface was a community of influential artists, including Burton Callicott and Carroll Cloar, whose works and stories would also become a part of the Brooks.

“The Family” has not been on permanent display at the museum although it has made appearances in recent years.

Memphis Brooks Museum of Art collections manager/registrar Kip Peterson, lower, assists preparators Paul Tracy, left, and Luís van Seixas in assembling "Magritte IV."

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“We’ve got limited space here, and I’m always trying to rotate the collection. It hasn’t been on extended exhibition for quite some time,” said Pacini, who wrote a piece on the crèche display for a 2005 catalog of the Brooks collection, including the 135 most important works.

“Sitting down and writing that entry just completely entranced me, intrigued me and just made me feel like I wanted to do additional work on it,” she said.

That same year, she committed to a retrospective on Marisol, contacted the artist in New York and was soon on her way there to meet with her.

“She was totally open to working with me on the project,” Pacini said. “Having her cooperation was a key factor in making the whole thing work.”

Marisol has worked in different materials.

One of the largest pieces in the exhibition is “Lick the Tire of My Bicycle,” a colorful wall-sized print of a bike rider in various stages of movement. The brightly colored print is large – 8 feet across and tall – and Pacini describes its colors and size as “overwhelming.”

“I saw an opening here that she is an extraordinary artist who has not gotten her due,” she added. “Because she has been so off the radar, it opened up the possibility to really do something to bring her back to her proper place so that she gets the proper recognition. She was understood in the 1960s to be one of the most significant sculptors of the decade. … As the decades have rolled by, she doesn’t command the attention she should.”

In the 1960s, when Marisol was part of a generation of artists that included Andy Warhol, whom she knew and worked with, the artist didn’t talk much about her intentions or message.

That changed into the 1970s, in interviews in which Marisol admitted some of the images were satirical.

“She’s gotten unhappy with the fact that people are missing what the sculptures are about,” Pacini said of some 1970s interviews she’s reviewed. “She felt that people could see that – that she didn’t need to spell it out because it should have been obvious to people looking at her works.”

“The Family” has been interpreted as a reflection of her religious faith, while others have seen it as anything but religious. One of the figures has a neon halo – with the original halo being preserved but replaced with new neon for its exhibitions in Memphis and then New York. The figures are not conventional human forms.

“She is not hitting you over the head with what it is she’s trying to say, which means that she sort of leaves the door open for some personal interpretation. … Different people can have a very different response,” Pacini said specifically of “The Family.” “It’s one of those things where there’s no one interpretation. And I actually think that is one of the strengths of the work. It is open to interpretation. Some people love it and some people don’t, and that’s OK.”

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