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Irreverent and Playful Humor at El Museo del Barrio
The entrance to El Museo del Barrio reads: “A museum is a school: The artist learns to communicate. The public learns to make connections.” Right on, I thought, and braced myself for some learning.
I walked into a gallery with colorful sculptures and drawings. They were all partly funny, partly surreal, and partly incisive. This was the retrospective exhibit of Marisol – a major figure in Postwar American art, of Venezuelan heritage. The works that stood out to me the most were her family-themed sculptures, her sculpture-portraits of famous artists, and her feminist drawings about harassment. Though her pieces were all distinct, they had something about them that was undeniably Marisol.
Her sculpture My Mother and I (1968) has a touch of childish whimsy: there’s something about the pouting child and smiling mother under that large umbrella that can’t help but make you smile.
Her sculpture-portrait of Picasso imagines him in wood on a chair and it evokes a certain fragility and loneliness, with magical undertones driven home by the nails wrapped around his heart.
Her drawing Lick the Tire of my Bicycle (1974) is composed of colorful swaths that insinuate figures by filling the negative space. They suggest a woman riding a bicycle, kicking one of her legs outward, as if fighting off all the pointing fingers and the gun pointed toward her. The scene of the piece is not explicit, but it succeeds in communicating the feeling of claustrophobic fear caused by street harassment.
In the other gallery was a collection of Nuyorican dissident art. These works attacked the system with a sense of humor. I found them highly inspirational because so many of the pieces were clever ideas that could be executed with things most of us have lying around. The highlights included a self-aware falsified university degree, sharpie-scribbled irreverent sayings on cardboard held up by the artist in street corners to emulate the typical medium of beggars, and wooden AK-47s with a recorder attached that would play famous speeches by the likes of Martin Luther King, Reagan, and Noam Chomsky.
My favorite piece was Out of Focus Nuyoricans by ADAL (1996) which contrasted out of focus photographs of Puerto Ricans both famous and mundane with a 16 page stream of consciousness rant that tackled identity, national politics, the relationship to the United States, and much more as the brilliant poetic ravings of a madman.
Marisol: Sculptures and Works on Paper is on display through January 10th, 2015, and Playing with Fire: Political Interventions, Dissident Acts, and Mischievous Actions through January 3rd, 2015. Admission to El Museo del Barrio is free with CUID and semester validation sticker.
The Museum of the City of New York is right next door and also free with CUID. Since El Museo’s exhibits are relatively small, it’s nice to combine them. They face two stunning sections of Central Park - the Conservatory Garden and the Harlem Meer – that provide a rewarding leisurely stroll. El Museo del Barrio not only has thought-provoking exhibits, but it is also located near other interesting spaces that make it ideal for an afternoon getaway from schoolwork.