Arts Arts and Culture Exhibit

The inimitable artwork of Marisol

From her uncanny, colorful drawings to her abstract wooden sculptures, Marisol’s retrospective at the MMFA features the full breadth of the artist’s prolific career.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is currently hosting a retrospective exhibition on the life and work of artist Marisol Escobar, commonly known as Marisol. She was an important figure of the Pop Art movement in the 1960s. She was also a close friend and collaborator of Andy Warhol. 

Her nomadic lifestyle might explain why her work is so diversified. Born in Paris to Venezuelan parents, Marisol lived in New York for most of her life and traveled to various corners of the world—each new destination giving her art a new breath. She experimented with all types of mediums; her portfolio includes drawings, paintings, photography, and film, but her sculptures are her most distinguishable creations.  

John D. Schiff (1907-1976), Marisol with Dinner Date, 1963. Marisol Papers, Buffalo AKG Art Museum. © John D. Schiff, courtesy of the Leo Baeck Institute, New York

As a politically engaged feminist, Marisol’s art strongly reflected her convictions. In a similar manner as Frida Kahlo, Marisol often integrated her own face and body parts into her abstract wooden sculptures. Some recurrent themes in Marisol’s artwork are family, maternity, women’s place in society, political conflicts and even gender nonconformity, which was a cutting-edge topic for an artist born in 1930. 

Marisol (1930-2016), Thé pour trois, 1960. Buffalo AKG Art Museum, bequest of Marisol, 2016, 2018:16a-d. © Estate of Marisol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo Brenda Bieger, Buffalo AKG Art Museum

The retrospective is separated into six galleries, each representing a phase in Marisol’s chronological artistic development. The entrance gallery displays her earlier work starting in the 1950s: mostly colorful drawings and paintings, some bronze sculptures and some small wooden sculptures. This period was during her twenties, when she was making connections with other young New York artists and experimenting with drugs, which is evident in the psychedelic appearance of many of the pieces she created at that time. 

View of the exhibition Marisol: A Retrospective. © Estate of Marisol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo MMFA, Denis Farley.
Marisol (1930-2016), Face Behind a Mask, 1961. Abrams Family Collection. © Estate of Marisol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo Bill Jacobson Studio

Moving into the second gallery, the viewers encounter more drawings and paintings that line the periphery of the space which is otherwise filled with popular sculptures Marisol made in the 1960s. Most are made of wood and stand taller than the average human. The collection includes two gigantic babies with wooden bodies and pencil-drawn faces, a boy sitting on a chair wearing Andy Warhol’s shoes, two naked cyclists and much more.

View of the exhibition Marisol: A Retrospective. © Estate of Marisol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo MMFA, Denis Farley
Marisol (1930-2016), Baby Girl, 1963. Buffalo AKG Art Museum, gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1964, K1964:8. © Estate of Marisol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo Brenda Bieger, Buffalo AKG Art Museum

The third gallery hosts some of Marisol’s most ambitious works, such as her piece The Party, which is made up of 15 life-size figures all dressed in gowns, a reflection of New York’s social scene in the mid-twentieth century. The works in this gallery also largely reflect Marisol’s concerns with the multifaceted nature of identity, as can be recognized in the many faces of her self-portraits.

View of the exhibition Marisol: A Retrospective. © Estate of Marisol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo MMFA, Denis Farley
Marisol (1930-2016), The Party, 1965-1966. Toledo Museum of Art. Museum Purchase Fund, by exchange, 2005.42A-P. © Estate of Marisol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Marisol (1930-2016), Self-Portrait, 1961-1962. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Joseph and Jory Shapiro, 1992.66. © Estate of Marisol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo © MCA Chicago, Nathan Keay

The fourth gallery displays Marisol’s work in the 1970s, when her popularity peaked. She started to take intensive diving lessons which inspired her to create pieces related to the underwater world and the ocean environment such as films, paintings of seascapes and a sculpture of a real-size fish-man. 

The Louis Falco Dance Company’s performance of Caviar, 1970. Décor and costumes by Marisol. Marisol Papers, Buffalo AKG Art Museum
View of the exhibition Marisol: A Retrospective. © Estate of Marisol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo MMFA, Denis Farley

Moving on to the fifth gallery, the space is filled with creations Marisol made using different parts of her body: there is a painting she created by pressing herself onto the paper while soaked in ink, as well as some clay hands, arms, feet and faces. There is a shift here between her usual approach of abstracting the female body through wooden sculpture to abstracting it through impressions.

View of the exhibition Marisol: A Retrospective. © Estate of Marisol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo MMFA, Denis Farley
Marisol (1930-2016), Diptych, 1971. Buffalo AKG Art Museum, gift of Mrs. George A. Forman, by exchange, 2022, 2022:4a-b. © Estate of Marisol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo Brenda Bieger, Buffalo AKG Art Museum

Naturally, the final gallery features the work Marisol made toward the end of her life. In the 1980s and 90s, she continued to make political pieces. She created public monuments, which are mostly in Venezuela. 

Marisol (1930-2016), American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial, 1991. The Battery, Manhattan, New York. Colour photograph, from the Marisol Papers, Buffalo AKG Art Museum. © Estate of Marisol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

She also met a shaman around that time and was deeply affected by this encounter, which inspired some paintings and sculptures that have a distinctly mystical quality to them. In the 2010s, she went back to colorful drawings, bringing her artistic journey full circle. She died in 2016, at age 86.

View of the exhibition Marisol: A Retrospective. © Estate of Marisol / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo MMFA, Denis Farley

Marisol’s retrospective will be on view at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts through Jan. 21, 2024.

Arts and Culture

Venus, Vixens, Virtues : Looking at Women in the Pop Art Movement

The MMFA’s new exhibition attempts to address the objectification of women in Pop art—how did they do?

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts recently opened their new exhibition The Pop of Life! Pop Art in the Collection of the MMFA. The exhibition features a selection of around 70 artworks from the museum’s collection that belong to the Pop art movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The thematic display takes the audience on a tour of the numerous concerns the artists associated with the movement: commodity culture, political events and the sexual objectification of women. 

Upon entering the exhibit to the left, the audience encounters one of the first themes showcased, Venus, Vixens, Virtue, which includes works by Eduardo Paolozzi and Montreal natives Gilles Boisvert and Pierre Ayot. This theme transparently exhibits examples of the ways the movement’s male artists used feminine archetypes in their work.

Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005), Vogue Gorilla with Miss Harper, from the album “Bunk,” 1972, after a collage of about 1947-1952. MMFA, gift of the artist. © Estate of Eduardo Paolozzi / CARCC 2023. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

The representation of women in visual art has a long and troublesome history. Across cultures, male artists and patrons have exercised their presumed entitlement to appropriate women’s bodies in art for their own aesthetic and erotic pleasure. Pop art certainly inherits this legacy, and it is interesting to consider the manifestations of this continuity in a movement concerned with challenging the traditions of fine art. This begs the question: how much do these images really serve as a critical commentary of the fetishization of women?

Pierre Ayot (1943-1995), Ma mère revenant de son shopping, 1967. MMFA, gift of Madeleine Forcier. © Estate of Pierre Ayot / CARCC 2023. Photo MMFA, Christine Guest

The brief accompanying description vaguely and obligingly disclaims that these images are largely a reflection of the sexual revolution. It also maintains that “sensibilities have evolved” and that the male gaze is “now being confronted and questioned.” However, any viewer who skips the didactic is simply presented with a lifeless white wall of vibrantly coloured prints of objectified women.

Gilles Boisvert (born in 1940), Woman, from the album “Les oiseaux,” 1972. MMFA, purchase, Saidye and Samuel Bronfman Collection of Canadian Art. Photo MMFA, Jean-François Brière

Gilles Boivert’s 1972 Les Oiseaux is a collection of graphic, brightly coloured screen prints of nude women in a variety of sexually explicit positions.  In Woman, a black and white woman reclines on an abstract background of bright, warm colour. Her position and expression suggests a moment of sexual ecstasy. 

This print is certainly a product of its time and has the potential to contribute to the celebration of women’s nascent sexual freedom. However, to what degree is this really a celebration of a woman’s agency and pleasure rather than an overt display of her body for the pleasure of the viewer? The woman in the print is denied an individual identity, reducing her to an archetype. Explicit sexuality in a red, purple and blue vacuum hardly demonstrates women’s empowerment; it is a one-dimensional approach that robs women of nuance. This tension seems to be left unaddressed. 

I am certainly not arguing in favour of the censorship or burial of these images. Still, it is increasingly apparent that they must be displayed carefully, and perhaps in a context that makes more of a thorough examination of their function. Ultimately, there is very little effort on the part of the museum to truly confront the pernicious aspects of this selection of artworks. 

Arts Exhibit

Exhibition review: Montreal printmaking artist’s life path

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts displays 30 remarkable artworks from Albert Dumouchel, representing the evolution of his art style throughout his career

“Printing remains a simple, Austere Language– As I have often said, it’s like chamber music” – Albert Dumouchel.

Albert Dumouchel (1916-71) was a Montreal printmaking artist. He met London artist James Lowe in 1940, which inspired the start of his printmaking career.

An exhibition in honour of the late artist is located on the second floor of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, surrounded by white walls. The room is lit in a warm tone, dimmer than the lobby but matches the tone of the artist’s featured works. This exhibition displays 30 of his prints from the 1940s to the 1960s. His printmaking has been influenced by the development of art in many other countries.

In 1942, Dumouchel’s artwork “Pietà” marked the beginning of his journey. Unlike the traditional drypoint technique, in which an image is drawn on the plate with a sharp needle-like tool. Dumouchel decided to carve his images into a sheet of transparent plastic. “Pietà” demonstrated a picture of the Virgin Mary mourning the death of her son. 

Although the overall lines of this piece are rough, the painted appearance on Mary’s face expresses strong emotions. The sharp white shapes in the background form a strong contrast with the surrounding dark round shapes, enhancing the viewer’s visual senses. His spiritual expression laid the groundwork for the later transformation of his artistic style.

In the late 1940s, Dumouchel turned towards surrealism, expressing external reality through his own psychological and poetic imagination. In “The Banners in the Night,” 1958, he used etching to show the technical improvement. Each line in the work flows naturally, twisting together to create the changeable forms of the wind.

In 1965, with the ascent of the Pop Art movement in North America, Dumouchel returned to figurative form in 1965. One remarkable technique he used was lithography. This technique was used in his piece “La mort de la cycliste” (The Death of the Cyclist), presenting his art in a completely new way.

Dumouchel returned to carving, making woodcuts late in his career, like his piece called “L’Horrible chat des neiges” (The Horrible Snow Cat).The penetrating gaze of the cat is what makes the work memorable. Referring to his earlier works, he has a talent of using minimal backgrounds to enhance the expression of the main subject’s manner.

Throughout this artist’s experience in printmaking, much of his inspiration has come from other cultures. “When I think of this artist, or any other artist, I would just think of his expression of art,” says one of the visitors. “Anything could be the inspiration, like what you learned and what you experienced.”

Exit mobile version