A Conversation with Marisol |  Pres

On display at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts until January 21 Marisol: A flashback Provides a fantastic reflection on the issues dominating the news. Our columnist went to meet this unique artist whom we are passionately rediscovering.

I fell in love this year, if not love at first sight, with artist Marisol. You may have seen his sculptures or a black-and-white portrait of him on a poster on the sidewalks of the Montreal metro. His works are the subject of a fantastic exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA).

Marisol Escobar died in 2016 at the age of 86, but her work is too current and relevant to be out of place in an art gallery on Boulevard Saint-Laurent.

His works resonate with current hot issues.

So, I caught up with the exhibition's curator, Marie-Daily Desmarais, to discuss the artist and her work. I was curious to learn more about the museum's purpose in programming this exhibit.

I admit, I was a little skeptical when I visited the museum. At Sherbrooke metro station, dozens of FAE strikers, identified by their red tuxes, headed to Square Saint-Louis for another day of demonstrations. And between Jean-Talon and Lucien-L'Allier stations, I counted at least five homeless people huddled on the ground. Everywhere, uncertainty hit me, and suddenly, I found my idea of ​​talking about art in a museum a little too comfortable.

But my hesitations disappeared once I came in contact with Marisol's creations.

Because even when everything goes wrong, art has rights. Especially when everything goes wrong. Marisol's work, both coherent and peaceful, poses essential and troubling questions about our society.

“Marisol was ahead of her time in terms of her dedication,” MMFA Chief Curator Marie-Daily Desmarais told me. It dealt with social issues such as the environment, the role of women, the experience of marginalized people and immigrants. His works were very influential at the time and still resonate strongly today. This is the sign of a great artist. »

Photo by Francois Roy, The Press

Discussion with Exhibition Curator Marisol: A flashbackMarie-Daily Desmarais

Valley of the Dolls

Browse the exhibition MarisolDiscovering an artist, a woman who constantly questioned herself, a woman who was constantly changing.

“We say to ourselves: the same artist? His works are very different from one room to another,” notes Marie-Daily Desmarais.

Large, very playful wooden sculptures attract the attention of children and adults alike. We see a mixture of innocence and cynicism, just like the creations Baby Boy And baby girl, It is the older children who conduct important discourses on the construction of gender. baby girl He holds a toy in his hands. Marie-Daily points out to me that Desmarais is Barbie's best friend, Midge. A choice without guilt, the conservative believes. “She didn't want to be Barbie, she identified more with the person next door, was a little bit in the shadow of Barbie, which is even more interesting when you think about it. »

Photo courtesy of Brenda Baiger, Albright-Knox Art Gallery/AKG, MMFA

baby girl By Marisol

This sculpture, undoubtedly a favorite of the Chief Curator, speaks to the expectations placed on women and the presence of children in their lives. “It's adorable and poignant. Marisol was often asked: When are you going to get married? Will you have children? She never married or had children, but the expectations placed on her were high enough that she addressed them through art. And women's identity All these related questions resonate even today. »

Inspired by Cousteau

In another room, where underwater footage is shown, the viewer discovers a slender fish carved in wood suspended from the ceiling. Other fish placed on a base are slightly disturbing human faces.

Photo courtesy of Denis Farley, MMFA

A favorite room of Commissioner Marie-Daily Desmarais

It was Marie-Daily Desmarais' favorite room. “We're in the late 1960s, early 1970s,” he explains. Marisol left America, fed up with the art scene, consumer culture, and the discourse surrounding the Vietnam War. She went to Tahiti to practice diving. She was very impressed by Cousteau's work. The works of this era deal with the relationship between the animal and human species. There is also a strong political dimension: fish names are linked to American weapons such as the USS battleship. Barracuda. She created somewhat monstrous creatures to challenge the impact of nuclear waste on the environment. She was completely in conversation with the discourse and fears of her time. »

Art critics were shocked by Marisol's method, whose ecological ideas were once again avant-garde but today they are completely transparent.

Marisol also criticized her image. Punctuated by self-portraits, her work challenges her own place as a woman and artist. Marie-Daily Desmarais observes, “She is a very beautiful woman, who has been photographed a lot, and few would sacrifice the harsh critical attention that her practice deserves.” She didn't like the way the media portrayed her as a “Latin folk artist.” This is not how she wants to be perceived. »

Photo courtesy of Harry Mattison, Bill Gates and MMFA

Artist Marisol, in a 1976 portrait of Harry Mattison

Her disappearance from the art scene on several occasions, refusing to play the self-promotion game, emphasized the aura of mystery that always surrounded her.

Attention-grabbing artists

Even today, Marisol is an inspiring female role model for artists in general, and women in particular.

Photo by Francois Roy, The Press

MMFA Chief Curator Marie-Daily Desmarais

She has this totally innovative and bold side. She continued her artistic vision. This is a very encouraging message for all women and all people who are facing doubts. She tells us to have the courage to do things differently.

Marie-Daily Desmarais, Chief Curator of the MMFA

For every Marisol, there are hundreds if not thousands of artists who don't get their moment of glory, the MMFA's chief curator reminds me. “When we talk about pop art, it's the men who are the most exalted and the stars. These museums need to refocus on these pioneering artists who should be highlighted precisely, like their male counterparts. »

You don't miss the exhibition. We are challenged, touched and captivated. Marie-Daily Desmarais was delighted by the success of the exhibition (about 60,000 visitors as of December 19), but she was not surprised.

“I was convinced that Montrealers would be interested in the inventiveness, innovation and boldness found in Marisol's work. She has also worked in the worlds of dance and fashion, two important aspects of Montreal culture. In Montreal, there is a love for cultural actors who do things with audacity and a certain flair. We love the innovative side, and Marisol's commitment and work raises important questions on many subjects and I think this exhibition has something for everyone. »

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