Venezuelan and American, born France, 1930
The Generals, 1961–62
Wood and mixed media
Overall 87 x 28 1/2 x 76 inches (221 x 72.4 x 193 cm)
Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1962
Marisol, born Maria Sol Escobar to Venzuelan parents in Paris, often traveled throughout Europe, Venezuela, and United States with her family as a child. Following the untimely death of her mother in 1941 in New York, near the end of World War II at age sixteen Marisol, along with her father and brother, moved to Los Angeles, California. During this time her interest in art was ignited, and she often drew and painted throughout her teenage years. Encouraged by her father, Marisol moved to Paris in 1949 to study art at the École des Beaux-Arts, and then to New York in 1950 to pursue her desire to become a painter. That same year she began studying at the Art Students League, and later, from 1951 to 1954, she studied with the Abstract Expressionist painter Hans Hofmann. In these years she also became acquainted with the scene at New York’s Cedar Tavern, a local watering hole whose prominent patrons included Beat Generation writers and many of the leading Abstract Expressionist painters of the era—Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, and, most notably, Willem de Kooning, with whom Marisol forged a close friendship. In 1953, Marisol decidedly abandoned painting to pursue an interest in sculpture. Primarily self-taught through practice and determination, she had her first exhibition in 1958 at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, which was well received.
During the 1960s, Marisol became increasingly influenced by the front-runners of the Pop art movement, such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, even making appearances in two of Warhol’s movies—Kiss (1963) and 13 Most Beautiful Women (1964). Today, Marisol’s assemblage sculptures, constructed with intelligence, pathos, and, at times, humor, place her at the forefront of a small, select group of female artists who were working with a Pop sensibility during the movement's heyday. While early on she sought to align herself with the Abstract Expressionists, she found that the emotional heaviness of that movement caused her to turn to humor. She went on to develop a unique artistic vernacular comprising mixed-media sculptures, often incorporating carving, nailing, gluing, painting, drawing, plastering, and the inclusion of found objects that unexpectedly reveal themselves as self-portraits. Many of her early works are autobiographical and explore her sense of self within the context of societal and family structures.
Albright-Knox patron and former board president Seymour H. Knox, Jr., was an early supporter of Marisol’s work. The Generals, 1961–62, purchased from Marisol’s first solo exhibition at Stable Gallery, New York, the same year the work was completed, was the first of two major sculptural works by Marisol to enter the Gallery’s Collection. Baby Girl, 1963, entered the Collection two years later, in 1964. According to Marisol, The Generals is “indicative of all [her] works.” Comprising nearly life-size sculptural caricatures of the American general and president George Washington and the Venezuelan military and political leader Simón Bolívar sitting on a toy horse, this iconic sculpture perfectly exemplifies Marisol’s style. Some areas, such as the face of the Bolívar figure, are meticulously rendered, while other areas are intentionally left seemingly unfinished. The hands of both figures are the cast hands of Marisol herself, which offers an eerily realistic layer to the sculpture. Other naturalistic features can be seen in the horse’s teeth, which are both natural and gold in color. This work, however, surpasses the realm of sculpture in its additional layer of an audio component. Originally emanating from the body of the horse was a recording of a march entitled Koronal Kreplach by the American composer David Amram, who was a friend of Marisol’s. Amram had written the score for a Broadway play called The Rivalry, and when Marisol heard it and walked around the sculpture, she found the combination amusing. After all, in her own words, “the world is too serious, I want people to laugh . . . I want to tell the truth in a funny way.” Conservation efforts are underway to restore this important component of the work.
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