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MCA’s ‘Warhol’ odd coupling works

Marisol Andy Warhol an Opening John Willenbecher's work Feigen Herbert Gallery New York 1963. | Pho© Adelaide de Menil courtesy

Marisol and Andy Warhol at an Opening of John Willenbecher's work at Feigen and Herbert Gallery, New York, 1963. | Photo © Adelaide de Menil, courtesy of Acquavella Galleries, New York. Part of the MCA exhibit "MCA DNA: Warhol and Marisol"

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‘MCA DNA: Warhol and Marisol,’ Sept. 21-June 15, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 220 E. Chicago. Free with regular museum admission. (312) 280-2660;

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Updated: September 18, 2013 5:01PM

Artists Andy Warhol and Marisol were not exactly artistic comrades-in-arms and their careers followed very different trajectories, so the two might not seem obvious candidates for a two-person exhibition.

But the very unexpectedness of the pairing persuaded Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago curators that the unlikely combination might make sense.

“We became interested in this show,” said curatorial assistant Karsten Lund, who organized it with curator Lynne Warren, “as with a lot of our other collection shows, [as a way] to figure out how to make an argument or present some kind of other story beyond highlighting the hits.”

“MCA DNA: Warhol and Marisol,” which opens Sept. 21 and runs through June 15, is not meant to be a blockbuster. Instead, it is an intimate, tightly focused show that features just six pieces — four from the museum’s collection and two loans.

“That’s something we have been very conscious of,” Lund said. “The question of scale — we definitely don’t want to oversell that.”

Few artists from the second half of the 20th century have become bigger names than Warhol, who helped pioneer pop art while exploring the still-pertinent issues of mass marketing, mass media and celebrity culture.

Marisol (Escobar), who was born in Paris to Venezuelan parents, moved to New York in 1950 and became internationally known in the 1960s for figurative sculptures consisting of block-like, wooden torsos with cast-plaster faces, hands and legs. Her reputation has sagged in recent years, but a Spring 2014 retrospective at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis could help restore her to the spotlight.

The MCA Chicago has had a long association with Marisol, and it was a desire to showcase its holdings of her work that ultimately led to the idea of exploring the little-recognized linkages between the sculptor and Warhol.

Not only were the two contemporaries (Warhol was born in 1928, Marisol in 1930), they were friends and sometimes encountered each other at art events, as a telling photo of the two at a 1963 opening at the Feigen and Herber Gallery in New York makes clear. In addition, both had solo shows at Eleanor Ward’s Stable Gallery.

The two also were the subject of each other’s work, as evidenced by Marisol’s sculptural portrait of a seated Warhol titled “Andy” (1962-63), which is the obvious focal point of the show. The 56½-inch-tall piece depicts him from multiple points of view in both two and three dimensions.

Conversely, Marisol appears in some of Warhol’s early films.

“The more common stories,” Lund said, “we hear about these fundamental periods in art history tend to focus more on the conflicts, the schisms. But there is the other side of it, which is the friendships and the ways, without trying to point to questions of influence, there is some kind of affinity you can begin to see between different people.”

In addition to the two artists’ personal ties, certain stylistic commonalities can be seen in their work, such as a shared interest in serial repetition. But Lund acknowledges that the two largely had fundamentally different ways of thinking about art — Warhol’s machine-like approach versus Marisol’s hands-on techniques.

When viewers experience the major examples by these two artists side by side in this upcoming exhibition, he hopes they not only become better acquainted with the MCA’s collection but also see the work of Warhol and Marisol in surprising new ways.

Kyle Macmillan is a Sun-Times freelance writer.

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