New York

Marisol

Sidney Janis Gallery

In Marisol’s sculptures as in Polke’s paintings, things will not stay put, but her rebellion reflects a kind of physical revulsion to restraint rather than an intellectual and spiritual unrest. The protest of her pieces seems almost to be wrenched from them against their will. Unruly by nature more than on principle, they will not tolerate restraint; the most refined sort of drawing inevitably pops into the most rambunctious, obnoxious, full-bodied kitsch. Marisol’s sarcasm, unlike that of Red Grooms, is incomplete, alloyed with longing. Grooms’ rejection is clear and unmistakable; Marisol’s, more subtle to begin with, is mixed with a desire to have what she ridicules, so that the pieces may convey a sense of working against their own best interest. Marisol scorns the grandiose; a bronze tableau here shows culture (as represented by Mark Twain) dwarfed into a caricature of Napoleonic self-infatuation, pigeon breasted and swollen headed, while nature, though not quite dominant, is larger than life in some accompanying oversized animals. In fact, all of Marisol’s sculptures are a rebuke of overweening Modernism. She reacts to the imposition of flatness, an act whose full trauma has still not been plumbed, with a sort of instinctual rearing up—against Gauguin, for example, one of the fathers of flatness, in her rendition of his Annah the Javanese, 1893. The figure in Marisol’s 1984 Annah is a Disneyland buffoon only because she becomes the definition of bulbous—with only her nose, breasts, and toes given dimension, she’s downright knobby. Curiously, her painted parts seem by contrast much flatter than in Gauguin’s original.

Yet on the other hand, Marisol herself indulges in a display of grandeur unequaled in many years. Her Last Supper installation, 1981-84, has the monumentality of Mount Rushmore. Ironically, the response evoked by its sheer bulk and woodenness—there’s no denying this visceral power—recalls the impact of Donald Judd’s untitled wall of plywood shelving from 1981; meanwhile, in an extreme change of key, the half-moon abstract window drawn directly on the wall seems breezily to footnote Mel Bochner and Sol LeWitt.

Marisol’s very unpredictability has in the past been intolerable to “good taste.” Hers is an emotional or attitudinal ambiguity rather than an esthetic one, and the esthetic has always been connected, as John Dryden averred, to judgment as well as to imagination, judgment being logic, reason, surety. The severity with which Marisol’s work has sometimes been assessed is a measure of how little we tolerate her kind of emotional ambivalence and illogic. If newer art revels in it unmolested, it should include Marisol in its thank you notes.

Jeanne Silverthorne