“Marisol and Warhol Take New York” is the tallyho title of an exhibition that re-unites the two kindred weirdo spirits who became, for a brief Camelot spell, the First Couple of Pop Art. Their trajectories then diverged, and therein lies the story. Marisol Escobar, a Venezuelan born in Paris and raised in affluence, and Andy Warhol, a spindly refugee from the scruffy outskirts of Pittsburgh, first met in 1962 and immediately serenaded each other through their art. Marisol made a wooden sculpture of Andy, a cast of her hands resting demurely in his lap; Warhol in turn filmed her for a few early experimental shorts and enshrined her in one of his famous screen tests, where, unlike so many of the other fidgets in the series, she barely blinked.
That was part of her mystique. Like the Velvet Underground enchantress Nico, Marisol possessed the cheekbones and opaque hauteur of a Garbo-esque siren. If Warhol was known for his preppy, gee-whiz vocabulary, which seldom ventured far from his trademark “Wow,” Marisol often disposed of language altogether, enclosing herself in a cocoon of silence that bewitched many, annoyed others.
Once she bestirred herself, however, all hell might break loose. As critic John Gruen recorded in his memoir The Party’s Over Now: “Her long silences were interrupted by some pretty wild carryings on.” One drunken occasion she raked the poet Frank O’Hara’s shirt off him with a single blow, like Catwoman. Of such stories, legends are made.
Yet, despite the critical accolades and inscrutable aura, Marisol saw her legend and reputation recede while Warhol’s eminence rose and remains all-encompassing, as evidenced by the current Netflix documentary series The Andy Warhol Diaries, as richly detailed as the chronicles of a royal court. What accounts for the disparity? A revisionist school of editorializing argues that Marisol was marginalized by the arid meanies of the art world’s patriarchal establishment, but her relative eclipse doesn’t require a conspiracy theory.
Marisol never sought or craved the flashbulb fireworks of fame, and was far less of a careerist. They both “took” Manhattan in the 60s, but Warhol, the Silver Scarecrow, was the one who bunkered down, consolidated his influence, hobnobbed with the hoity and the toity, and cobbled together an empire (films, commissioned portraits, product endorsements, Interview magazine, cameo appearances, et cetera), while the more reclusive Marisol dipped in and out of the city, disappearing from the radar.
Returning to New York after a number of years, she and her work were out of sync with the art scene, no longer part of the gallery chatter. It’s inspiriting that her sculptures of families are now being re-discovered, re-evaluated, and appreciated for their eerie folkloric presence, like something out of a Twin Peaks hunting lodge. Let that suffice. She and Andy were simply working on different wavelengths, and Andy’s prevailed. —James Wolcott
“Marisol and Warhol Take New York” opens on April 15 at the Pérez Art Museum, in Miami