CHICAGO — In his book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, the famous pop artist considered the surface nature of his life and art in a very deadpan manner. He gives equal importance to acts of throwing out gay porn magazines, flushing things down the toilet, ambitions for a TV show, things that qualify as “the opposite of nothing,” and anything else that could happen on a daily basis. Warhol’s acute understanding of American culture, consumerism, mass production, and celebrity status bubbles to the surface in Warhol and Marisol, which is a compact, tightly curated exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
This exhibition focuses on the conversational nature of artworks produced by Andy Warhol and the Paris-born American artist of Venezuelan heritage Marisol Escobar, who got to know each other in the 1960s.
Marisol, who is still alive today and lives in New York City, outlived her buddy Andy, who survived being shot but did not make it through a gallbladder surgery in 1987. Her sculptures, which she honed in the 1960s, are characterized by wooden boxy figures with either painted-on or extraneous wooden or cast plaster appendages. In contrast to Warhol’s flat silkscreens, consumer culture obsession, and manufactured multiples, Marisol’s works take on a more human, tactile feel. Not that this makes them any less-surface-oriented than Warhol’s works.
Marisol indulges in the surface of bodies, faces, hands, and feet without the focus on consumerism and fashion that Warhol so enjoyed. Marisol’s boxy sculpture of Warhol, for example, seems to suggest visual evidence for Warhol’s famous quote about himself:
“If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.”
Indeed, the three-dimensional rendering of a two-dimensional Warhol shows that there is nothing behind him except for negative space, and the interior box portion of him is impenetrable. His face is painted on all four sides of the wooden box, showing views from the front, behind, and either side. Only Warhol’s hands and feet are cast in a tactile manner, but they too merely rest on the surface and resists penetration of any kind.
Marisol’s monument to the Warholian nature of surface sits in the middle of this small room, facing the silkscreen on synthetic polymer “Troy Diptych” (1962), which shows multiple circular portraits of the since long-forgotten actor Troy Donahue, a teen idol heartthrob of the 1950s and 1960s whose status dissolved once he grew up. Donahue’s story is reminiscent of teen pop star Justin Bieber, who recently flirted with the idea of early retirement. Warhol captures this pop culture moment of waning adolescent fame that is a regular fixture of celebrity culture that nonetheless regularly takes fans on an emotional roller-coaster ride.
Stepping away from celebrity culture, Marisol turns to the everywoman in her piece “Six Women” (1965–66). Here, six wooden and plaster renderings of heads or head-like sculptures are positioned atop three rectangular black boxes. Three pairs of shoes peek out from the bottoms, as if they were mice poking their noses out of holes in the wall. The plaster faces are of any woman, an everywoman — someone we’ve seen once before, or not at all. Mirrors make up the side views of the sculptures’ torsos, welcoming any person to come by and snap a selfie, and thus becoming the seventh woman. In this way, the viewer becomes a part of the ongoing surface-level conversation between these two artists. If Warhol and Marisol’s work tells us anything, it is that great revelations and reflections on the state of culture often begin on the surface.
MCA DNA: Warhol and Marisol runs through June 15 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (220 E Chicago Avenue, Chicago).