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Famed pop artist Marisol leaves vast estate to the Albright-Knox

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery's lucky streak continued Wednesday with the announcement of another major gift that will reshape the institution for future generations.

Less than a year after the gallery received the largest single financial donation in its history, officials announced that the gallery has received its largest single donation of art: The vast and lucrative estate of pop artist and Buffalo favorite Marisol, who died last April.

The estate includes more than 100 sculptures, some 150 works on paper, thousands of photographs and the artist's New York City loft apartment. The impending sale of that apartment, worth an estimated $4 million to $5 million, will bolster the gallery's operating endowment as it heads into its first major expansion in more than 50 years.

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is announcing a major gift: the bulk of Marisol's estate.

Posted by on Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"It's totally transformative," Albright-Knox Director Janne Sirén said of the gift. "I cannot think of a mid-century artist of Marisol's stature who would have left their entire estate to a museum."

Marisol touches up her 1961-62 sculpture "The Generals" in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in 1963.

In honor of the artist and her gift, a gallery in the soon-to-be-built Buffalo Albright-Knox-Gundlach Art Museum will be named after Marisol and will feature her work.

The gallery has long maintained a close relationship with Marisol Escobar, who was born in Paris, raised in Venezuela and built her career in the United States. The Albright-Knox was the first museum to acquire her work — the popular sculptures "The Generals" and "Baby Girl" in 1962 and 1964 — and kept close tabs on the artist over the decades.

"Baby Girl," which the gallery purchased after it was exhibited at Leo Castelli's Stable Gallery in 1962, became an instant hit in Buffalo — the "Shark Girl" of its day — as did the artist herself.

The prolific and enigmatic artist was among a group championed by gallery's patron and namesake Seymour H. Knox Jr., who developed similar relationships with Clyfford Still, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and many others.

“How rarely do you see a work come into the collection and instantly be a favorite? ‘Baby Girl’ became an instant favorite,” Albright-Knox curator Holly E. Hughes told The News after Marisol's death in April 2016. Marisol's work, Hughes continued, "instantly became a destination point. She’s just such an important part of our history of supporting emerging artists, but also supporting artists who are a little bit outside the box as well. I’m really proud that we first collected her and put her on the map.”

Before ‘Shark Girl,’ there was Marisol’s ‘Baby Girl’

The unprecedented bequest, set down decades ago in Marisol's will, is a direct result of Knox's early embrace of her work.

"She was incredibly grateful to Mr. Knox for his purchase of 'The Generals' and 'Baby Girl.' It was her first museum collection," said Carlos Brillembourg, Marisol's longtime friend and co-executor of her estate with mutual friend Mimi Trujillo. "I think it's a wonderful thing for an artist to have a museum take care of their archive because it means that it will always be in public view and not dispersed among private collections."

Marisol, who was represented by Buffalo-born gallerist Sidney Janis throughout her career, made frequent appearances at Albright-Knox openings and events over the decades.

"The Generals," a sculptural and sound installation created by Marisol in 1961-62 and purchased shortly thereafter by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, was the first of Mirasol's works to be acquired by a museum.

The significance of the gift, which turns the Albright-Knox into an international destination for anyone interested in Marisol, exceeds Still's then-unprecedented donation of 31 paintings in 1964. The bequest also comes at a time of increasing interest in Marisol's work, much of which she kept in her studio until her death.

"Although she was incredibly productive and she produced a lot of work, she also did not sell everything," Brillembourg said. "She kept with her in her studio her favorite works from basically all her periods."

Highlights include her 1996 work "The Funeral," based on the funeral procession of President John F. Kennedy, a portrait of the artist and her mother, and the important 1955 sculpture "The Hungarians," a haunting portrait of a young family.

"There has been an uptick of interest in the last five or 10 years as more people have been thinking about her work," Brillembourg said. "She was, of course, known as being a pop artist, but what's interesting about Marisol is that she is much more than that. And she's unique because she's probably the best-known woman artist of the pop artists. Most of them were men."

Sirén said the bequest is a nod to that trailblazing work in an art world dominated by men.

"I think also her being a woman artist in a world surrounded by men, it really speaks to her pioneering work on that front," Sirén said. "She crossed a lot of barriers early. She never was one standing at the barricades yelling out an ideology, but she was certainly aware of all the broad kaleidoscope of factors that went into being a woman artist."

The announcement is the gallery's second major windfall since it launched its expansion project after Buffalo-born billionaire Jeffrey Gundlach donated $42.5 million to the project.

Albright-Knox raises $100 million with help from Buffalo-born billionaire

Like many Albright-Knox visitors with fond memories of Marisol's work, Gundlach was transfixed by the artist's sculptures as a child and closely associates them with Buffalo and the gallery.

"I first saw Marisol’s 'The Generals' and 'Baby Girl' right around the time they were acquired," Gundlach said in a statement. "Even though I was quite young, their visual impact, materiality, and form were so strong that I never forgot them."


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