American Consumerism in Marisol Escobar’s love by Diane Benroubi-Schrenzel

American Consumerism in Marisol Escobar’s Love
by Diane Benroubi-Schrenzel

Maria Sol Escobar, who became known as Marisol Escobar, created the sculpture Love in 1962, as her fame was rising. Despite being a Venezuelan woman who lived in Paris and in the United States, Marisol constructed this sculpture utilizing the quintessentially American drink of Coca-Cola. It is now exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Contextualizing Love within Marisol’s oeuvre and other Pop artwork, this paper will analyze the visual, semiotic, and hermeneutical functioning and purpose of the work. It will demonstrate the power of signs and commercialism within Pop art.

Love is a compelling visual testament to the power of cultural globalism and universalism. The sculpture is fundamentally constituted of two parts: a plaster portion of a face and a Coca-Cola glass bottle with the famed beverage inside.
The rugged surface of the plaster contrasts with the smoothness of the liquid drink and bottle. The plaster head is partial since it is missing eyes. This allows for the viewer to enhance his or her identification with the work as well as a greater accentuation of a universalistic outlook. Indeed, eyes are typically a very individualizing feature which would have diminished the broadly global message associated with the work.

Also relevant to the universal message of this artwork is the color tone of the plaster. Indeed, the plaster is light brown, an unusual choice given how plaster is usually white in most artistic works, especially those predating the 20th century. The light brown tone here can be interpreted as a visual mixture of African American darker skin tone and a Caucasian skin tone. Hence, there is an ethnic message in the color, which is that Americans with different skin tones are drawn to Coca-Cola despite being of different backgrounds.

The spatial nature of the work commands our attention. The bottle is turned upside down and the mouth is constructed so that only the bottle can fit. This visual position leads the viewer to question whether there was ever an option to not drink Coca-Cola. It demonstrates the gullible nature of people who buy the drink mindlessly. The universalistic outlook of this work fits within Marisol’s continued artistic preoccupation and “focus on the human condition.”

A socio-political commentary is in order to better contextualize the artwork within Marisol’s oeuvre. Marisol combined diverse influences in her work. She painted for many years and started sculpting in 1954. Afterwards, Marisol tended to reconcile both techniques. In this endeavor, she was influenced by Hans Hofmann, whom she considered as her only teacher.
She was inspired by his wisdom in successfully combining shape and color across two and three-dimensional artworks. Her work with plaster starting in the late 1950s, which followed a much-remarked utilization of wood in her sculptures, allowed for further delving into the possibilities of mixed media, as she does with this work. She hence inscribed herself in the lineage of the readymade, a revolutionary concept invented in the 1910s by Marcel Duchamp, whom she later met and appreciated. This borrowing from the readymade is obvious from the integration of the Coca-Cola bottle and beverage in the sculpture.

This vision of art as embracing the mundane, and hence, commercial spheres stems from Duchamp but finds a great legacy in Pop art. Marcel Duchamp revolutionized what art was considered as. Put very briefly, “anything” could become art if an artist so chose. This was a radical statement for art, which had been linked to craftsmanship for millenia.
Duchamp is dubbed the “Grandpa of Pop” as he paved the way for the utilization of everyday consumer goods in art. Love inscribes itself in the lineage of Marcel Duchamp’s conception of art as it relies on well-known elements of American retail culture for artistic purposes.

This sculpture can serve as a springboard for a discussion of Marisol’s liminal position within Pop art, as the gender bias of art critics and scholars has altered the interpretation of her work. Pop art is defined differently by some than by others, which already allows for easy exclusion of Marisol’s work. Art historian Cécile Whiting argues that Marisol’s female status led critics to establish the boundaries of Pop art in order to marginalize her.
Whiting explains this bias as a gendered one since Marisol, a very feminine woman, was operating within the Pop art sphere which was dominated by men. Love, however, allows for Marisol to fully position herself within the preoccupations of other Pop artists. Indeed, what appears to be common ground for all Pop artists is their “attention toward consumer culture, yet [they] maintained a distance from their sources by adopting an attitude of formalist detachment.”
Love exemplifies the rich relationship between Pop art and the consumer goods industry.

To add context, Marisol rarely tackles notions of commercialism in such an upfront manner as she does with Love, which appears to be a unicum in her oeuvre. The fact that this sculpture is uncommon in the direct ties it establishes with both art and consumerism is demonstrated by the fact that it is almost never commented upon by scholars. For example, it is not mentioned in the authoritative 200-page exhibition catalogue by Deborah Cullen et al. I wonder why this work was marginalized in the scholarly analysis of her work.
It certainly could have been because it was deemed atypical relative to the rest of her works. However, given how art critics and scholars in previous generations have put much effort into belittling Marisol’s connection to Pop art, it seems more likely that Love was excluded because of how closely it dovetails with the major themes and modes of functioning of Pop art.
It directly references consumerism through visual borrowing of famous products and makes us ponder on the possibility of experiencing free will in an advertising-saturated and capitalistic society. These issues are raised by renowned Pop artists, like Andy Warhol. The historical exclusion of Love from the scholarship on Marisol could have been to disparage her insertion in Pop art, which this work reinforces.
However, this sculpture has at long last received the recognition it deserves through its new display at the MoMA in the same room as Jasper Johns’ Target with Four Faces, which the art critic Peter Plagens has characterized as “pop art.” In his study of Andy Warhol, art historian Arthur Danto defines Pop art as designating “paintings—and sculptures—of things and images from commercial culture, or objects that everyone in the culture would recognize, without having to have their use or meaning explained.”

Love is certainly an example of Pop artwork according to this definition’s framework, amid others.
Having established the link between Pop art and Love, one can apply hermeneutics and semiotics to further that connection and offer a more thoughtful analysis of the work and Marisol’s construction of her own image. Arthur Danto’s quote signifies the added value of semiotics and hermeneutics in understanding art.

Marisol as an artist became known for her mysteriousness as she refused to speak to interviewers about her life or art. To borrow from semiotic analysis and terminology, her reliance on art rather than words to express herself suggests how she perceives artistic signs as more potent than words. Regarding the sculpture, Ferdinand de Saussure develops the idea of semiotic arbitrariness in his dyadic model.

This concept, which highlights the strength of social norms in the understanding of our environment, serves to underline that Coca-Cola’s symbolization of the power of American culture and consumerism is not inherent but rather a construct anchored in society’s beliefs.
They are themselves shaped by the marketing which Coca-Cola has done to define itself. Saussure’s model allows us to take a step back and reflect on how arbitrary connections are perceived as eternal truths when they are, in fact, produced out of thin air. Indeed, Coca-Cola’s branding as an essential American beverage is originally based on marketing alone, which then influences society to buy into this belief. Marisol and her sculpture Love typify the power of signs and symbols, which the Saussurian model allows us to better comprehend.

One can also rely on Jean Baudrillard’s book “Simulacra and Simulations” to further study how hermeneutics allow us to interpret Love with a new lens. Writing in the 1960s and therefore with an understanding of post-World War II Western consumerism, Baudrillard comments on how meaning in modern societies is increasingly connected to symbols and signs. Baudrillard’s comments on iconoclasm are particularly relevant to Love.
Marisol is an iconoclast since she challenges the status quo of ideas and institutions, which certainly could include Coca-Cola as it is key to American consumerism. Baudrillard notes how iconoclasts, “who are often accused of despising and denying images, were in fact the ones who accorded them their actual worth.”

He further explains this power of images since “signs could refer to the depth of meaning.” This conditional proposition is valuable in demonstrating how the relationship between signs and meaning is just one possible path and depends on social constructs. Baudrillard’s perspective further reinforces the value which Marisol found in utilizing the bottle and drink of Coca-Cola in this work.
She relied on signs, thereby reinforcing their power and asserting the flimsy relationship between reality and imagination, which is boosted by commercialism.
What remains unclear is Marisol’s purpose in executing this work. Was her work satirical or ironic? Was it “simply” meant to allow for its audience to reflect on the crucial significance of the Coca-Cola brand? Is the consumer conscious of how branding marketing diminishes, if not eliminates, the power of free will by offering only one viable path- that of consuming the brand’s products?
Based on the position of the bottle, it appears that it is suffocating the person, thereby bombarding him or her with brand saturation for commercial gains. While the connection between the sculpture and the consumer world is visually evident, it remains hard to understand the artist’s purpose.
In conclusion, Love, a mixed media sculpture by Marisol Escobar, visually combines distinct elements to showcase the power of symbolism. The hermeneutical and semiotic analysis of this work accentuates the fragility of meanings and symbolism, whose power stems from the gullible nature of the audience which believes advertising within a media-saturated society.
This work fits into the model of other Pop artworks through its discussion of consumerism which the sculpture relies on and yet possibly undermines. Its newfound recognition at the MoMA is befitting for a work which raises a lot of increasingly relevant questions given the personalization of media saturation in today’s digital age.

Diane Benroubi-Schrenzel
03/31/2020

Diane, 22 ans, vient de finir un bachelor d’histoire de l’art à Wellesley (Boston). Depuis son plus jeune âge, elle est passionnée par l’art. Elle a donné plusieurs conférences d’histoire de l’art à des publics variés en France comme aux Etats-Unis et a fait des stages chez Christie’s et Sotheby’s aussi bien à Paris qu’à New York. Elle souhaite intégrer une maison de vente aux enchères à New York.
Wellesley College ’20

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