The Time Marisol Got in a Brawl with John Ashbery and Ripped Off Frank O’Hara’s Shirt

Marisol Escobar & Sculpture

Marisol poses with her carved wooden sculptures, NY, 1958.

As the New York Times reported earlier this week, “Marisol, a Venezuelan-American artist who fused Pop Art imagery and folk art in assemblages and sculptures that, together with her mysterious, Garboesque persona, made her one of the most compelling artists on the New York scene in the 1960s, died on Saturday in Manhattan. She was 85.”

Although she is somewhat obscure today (the obituary quotes one curator saying that she “has been inappropriately written out of history”), Marisol was an enigmatic and glamorous artworld star in the 1960s.

In the late 1950s and 1960s, Marisol was associated with and exhibited alongside Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol, mingled with the artists and poets of the New York School (including a brief affair with Willem de Kooning), and developed a reputation for some rather wild and unpredictable behavior.

In John Gruen’s gossipy memoir of the 1950s New York art scene, The Party’s Over, he recalls that “when we first met her, her long silences were interrupted by some pretty wild carryings on.  For some reason she was drawn to men with a violent streak,” including the painter Michael Goldberg, who was a very close friend of Frank O’Hara’s.

Gruen recalls a drunken party thrown by the painter John Button, at which Marisol faced off, strangely enough, against the poets of the New York School.  Apparently the artist provoked the usually mild-mannered John Ashbery into throwing a chair at her and tore off Frank O’Hara’s shirt. In Button’s words:

Marisol was running around with Mike Goldberg at the time, and they arrived together. Well, as it happened, all the painters and sculptors there were very teddy-bearish, and they were being particularly teddy-bearish with all their homosexual friends — everyone kissed everyone — and towards the end of the party John Ashbery got up and turned to Mike and said, ‘Goodnight, Mike,’ and they kissed on the mouth. It was all a matter of course in those days, and really didn’t mean anything.  Marisol, seeing this, blew a fuse, and she picked up a very large earthenware pitcher — a French pitcher that I had — and threw it across the room at John Ashbery, and John got furious and picked up a chair and threw it back at her.  Both of them missed, thank God.  The pitcher did not hit John Ashbery, it crashed into the wall.  And when John threw the chair, he was rather clumsy and it hit the table on which all the glasses and the liquor were.  Everything broke and came crashing on the floor.

Mike Goldberg got furious at Marisol, and he grabbed her and took her outside, and practically threw her down a flight of stairs, but she was very limber, and came crawling right back up the stairs, burst in the door, and with one extended hand, ripped Frank O’Hara’s shirt right off him — in one blow, like a cat.  Mike finally subdued her and saw her out the door again.

Those were the days, I guess…


This entry was posted in Andy Warhol, Frank O'Hara, In Memoriam, Jasper Johns, John Ashbery, Michael Goldberg, Robert Rauschenberg, Uncategorized, Visual Art, Willem de Kooning. Bookmark the permalink.