Two Pop artists met at New York’s Stable Gallery in 1962 and became fast friends. One of them was already a star — had exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, been featured twice in LIFE magazine, and had a solo show at the Leo Castelli Gallery. The other was Andy Warhol. (He’d been trying for almost a decade to transition from commercial illustrations to gallery shows, without much luck.) And he desperately wanted to be like his accomplished new pal, Marisol.
“For Warhol, Marisol had attained the New York success story that he was aspiring to achieve,” Jessica Beck, curator of the Marisol and Warhol Take New York exhibition currently on view at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, told Hyperallergic. “Warhol was still trying to craft his own publica persona and his place within the art world.”
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At first glance, an exhibition like this may seem like a way to boost Marisol’s visibility by placing her in Warhol’s orbit, but that’s not the case. It’s about how Marisol influenced him, not vice versa. “Marisol and Warhol Take New York offers a new vantage point to see Marisol’s work alongside Warhol’s celebrated production of the 1960s and a more expansive view of the New York Pop movement with Marisol at its center,” writes Beck in the exhibition catalogue. “Marisol is the true trailblazer.”
In her assemblage sculptural portrait of Warhol, “Andy” (1962-3), Marisol portrays him as the shy emerging artist he was when they first met, dressed nondescriptly and sitting on a chair. In her characteristic style fusing painting and sculpture, she painted portraits of Warhol from three different angles onto the sides of the wooden block representing his body (maybe in some way inspiring the serialized portraits that later vaulted Warhol to fame). Below, a pair of Warhol’s actual leather shoes peek out from wooden legs.
Warhol, in turn, captured Marisol on film. “The moment that Warhol is first picking up his camera during the summer of 1963, Marisol is at the center of his lens,” shared Beck. “Warhol felt comfortable enough with Marisol to experiment with his camera and Marisol must have felt safe in front of Warhol’s lens, because the films that he made of her speak to collaboration, playfulness, creative dialogue and experimentation.” He made four films of her in the spring and summer of 1963, easing his transition into a new medium.
Watching Marisol also taught Warhol how to act like an artist. Marisol had a deadpan, performative persona that prefigured Warhol’s impenetrable cool. A beloved anecdote about her recounts her appearance in a 1961 panel to discuss MoMA’s The Art of Assemblage exhibition. She showed up wearing a white Japanese-style mask and the crowd howled at her to take it off. When she eventually did, she exposed that her face was made up exactly like the mask.
“Could Warhol’s transformation from his raggedy 1950s preppy style into the embodiment of Pop, with his exaggerated silver wig, leather jacket, and semi-mute demeanor have been modeled on Marisol’s example?” asks gallerist and curator Jeffrey Deitch in his catalogue essay. By 1964, Warhol was habitually wearing his iconic dark glasses.
From behind those shades, Warhol was closely studying Marisol’s work. The only time Marisol used a recognizable brand product in her work was in her “Love” (1962) sculpture, of a plaster head having a real glass Coca Cola bottle forced into its mouth. That was the year Warhol started used Coke bottles as readymades. Beck also suggests that Marisol’s wooden assemblage sculptures inspired Warhol’s sculptures of Brillo and Heinz ketchup boxes (the influence for which is usually attributed to Marcel Duchamp).“I also wonder if Marisol’s use of exaggerated scale in her John Wayne sculpture might have impacted Warhol’s large Silver Elvis paintings from 1963,” Beck added. And in early 1963, Warhol did a silkscreen series of Mona Lisa, after he likely saw Marisol’s “Mona Lisa” sculpture at her 1962 Stable Gallery solo show.
Warhol was a notorious appropriation artist, but what he lifted from Marisol is still underexplored.
While Marisol and Warhol stayed friends, their lives took different paths during the summer of 1968. She represented her native Venezuela at the Venice Biennale that year, and he was shot at the Factory (sustaining a serious injury). Their work shifted, and so did their social circles. But some overlap remained. They both created portraits of Martha Graham and Georgia O’Keeffe in the 1980s and, in 1984, both made or began works referencing Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper.”
Warhol never proclaimed his admiration for Marisol’s work, but in 1964 he gave her the questionable compliment of being the “first girl artist with glamour.” The talented Marisol often preferred to act mute, saving her words for when she had something to say. “I have been called a myth,” she told Women’s Wear Daily in 1966. “If this is true, I deserve some success for I have worked very hard.”