Marisol, The Party

Marisol Escobar, The Party, 1965-66, fifteen freestanding, life-size figures and three wall panels, with painted and carved wood, mirrors, plastic, television set, clothes, shoes, glasses, and other accessories, variable dimensions (Toledo Museum of Art, © artist’s estate)

[0:00] [music]

Dr. Steven Zucker: [0:05] We’re in the Toledo Museum of Art, standing beside this assemblage of figures.

Dr. Halona Norton-Westbrook: [0:12] This is Marisol’s “The Party” from 1965-1966. It’s a party where everyone has some version of Marisol’s face. She is the person that is represented over and over again. What you’ll notice about this work is it’s a party with many people dressed finely, with drinks or accessories prominently featured. And yet, there’s a profound sense of not being able to find connection with other human beings.

Dr. Zucker: [0:40] Look at the formal organization of the sculpture. The figures are blocks of wood. They are hewn separately. There is no interaction. There are no arms reaching out towards each other. The closest we have to that is in the group of three to the right. We see one hand extending from one block to the other. Save that, these figures exist in their four-square isolation.

Dr. Norton-Westbrook: [1:04] It is grappling with these issues of disconnection, of loneliness, of being lost in a crowd, and that’s a feeling that is universal.

Dr. Zucker: [1:12] Marisol burst on the New York art scene in the early 1960s. This was a moment when abstraction, specifically the Abstract Expressionism of Jackson Pollock, of Mark Rothko, was the dominant form of advanced art. But here, we have figurative art. We have an artist who’s gone back to the pictorial.

Dr. Norton-Westbrook: [1:29] The work is so colorful and engaging. Marisol herself was so beautiful and iconic. That, in many ways, denied her for quite some time her proper place in art history, and underplayed how important of a contribution she was making.

Dr. Zucker: [1:46] Art historians have struggled to place her. Early on, she was seen as associated with Pop Art. In fact, she was a close friend of Andy Warhol. But she has carved out a place that is distinct to her own art.

Dr. Norton-Westbrook: [1:59] I think that one of the things that Marisol was doing was looking for a way to hold up a mirror to what was happening in society, to comment on changes that she saw reflected in her own life and in the broader society in the 1960s.

[2:15] It was a time of disruption, of questioning what had been established, the post-prosperity era of the 1950s where it seemed that everything was on an upward trajectory. Now, there was pushing at the fabric of that. That’s what many of her works in this time period start to reflect.

Dr. Zucker: [2:35] It seems that she saw herself as an outsider. She had been born to a wealthy family and they traveled a good deal. In interviews, she speaks about her rejection of her background, of that wealth, and her dissatisfaction with the requirements of her social position. And I think we see that here.

Dr. Norton-Westbrook: [2:52] When she was asked why did she use her own face in so many of the works, she said she wanted to make a commentary on what was happening in society, but not necessarily be critical of people that she knew. That wasn’t what interested her, not the individual personalities and holding them up for criticism.

Dr. Zucker: [3:07] We think of a face, we think of a portrait, as an extremely intimate expression. But here, because of the multiplication, because her face exists on every single figure, sometimes multiple times, her face becomes more anonymous. It distances us, rather than brings us in.

Dr. Norton-Westbrook: [3:24] There’s a profound sense in the work of being distanced, of being not quite able to connect, of not knowing where to focus.

[3:33] There’s so much that you’re being visually presented with in terms of the details of the clothing, the subtle movements and gestures, that you feel drawn to many things that are not necessarily the face, because there’s all these other things to distract you.

Dr. Zucker: [3:48] But even as we feel this sense of disconnection, it seems as if so many of these figures are trying to project themselves, even if that projection is failed.

[3:58] The faces, in certain cases, literally project forward. The costumes, some of which are her own clothing, are the stars of this sculpture. Each figure is showing off, and yet not being seen.

Dr. Norton-Westbrook: [4:10] And I think particularly thinking about this era of the 1960s and some of the ways that women were beginning to question their traditional roles.

Dr. Zucker: [4:19] The blocks of wood themselves seem to express conformity. We see these women trying to stand out beyond these blocks, but they can’t quite do it. The blocks continue to restrain them.

Dr. Norton-Westbrook: [4:31] That is one of the things that’s extremely powerful about the work, is that it is in many ways raising some of the questions that the feminist movement would then be grappling with in just a few years, in a more vocal and public way.

[4:44] You see here a lack of contentedness, or a deep unease, and the way that that was manifesting itself in New York society.

[4:51] [music]

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Cite this page as: Dr. Halona Norton-Westbrook, Toledo Museum of Art and Dr. Steven Zucker, "Marisol, The Party," in Smarthistory, April 6, 2019, accessed May 21, 2024,