SUSTAINED LOOKING: A PORTFOLIO & A FEW WORDS WITH MARCIA MARCUS by Elaine Sexton
At 90, Marcia Marcus, seems to be done with talking and content to let her work speak for itself. Here is a selection of her work shown late in 2017 at Eric Firestone Gallery in New York, much of it gathered from museums and private collections.
ELAINE SEXTON: Finally, so many women of your generation are beginning to get the attention you deserve. Would you say a few words about the recent exhibit, “Role Play: Paintings 1958-1973”? and maybe offer a few comments that put these portraits in context?
MARCIA MARCUS: I like looking at painting but I’ve never enjoyed talking about art. As Milton Avery said, “Why talk when you can paint?”
ES: Fair enough!
• • •
ES: A representative from Eric Firestone Gallery, who exhibited a selection of these distinctive portraits in late 2017, culled a few lines from an oral history (completed in 1975) to represent how Marcia Marcus felt about the art world at the time these portraits were first being shown, words that bristle, giving voice to this remarkable artist.
MM: “A lot of women are bitter because of the gender bias. I always knew there were guys who preferred their women tied to beds and kitchens, so you wrote them off. But obviously some of my best friends have always been men. For whatever reason, I always felt I had a right to be there, operated the way I wanted to, and was never intimidated by it.”*
*These comments are from an oral history conducted by Paul Cummings for the Archives of American Art. Jennifer Samet, Director of Research at Eric Firestone Gallery, also puts this artist’s work in context in a bio following this portfolio.
Marcia Marcus (b. 1928, New York City) is a portraitist who has worked at the intersection of painting, proto-performance art, and identity politics. Marcus’s paintings of artists, writers, family, friends, and acquaintances – show how portraiture sheds light on the shifting roles we all embody. Marcus studied at Cooper Union from 1950-52, and at the Art Students League, with Edwin Dickinson, in 1954. By 1953, Marcus was collaborating with Allan Kaprow. She was a founding member of the March Gallery where she had her first solo show in 1957. Marcus was invited to be part the Delancey Street Museum by Red Grooms, along with collaborators Jay Milder and Bob Thompson. It was there, in February 1960, that she became the first woman artist to stage a “Happening,” and in April 1960, was the subject of a one-person show of paintings. For over twenty-five years, beginning in 1952, Marcus spent summers living and working in one of the legendary Provincetown dune shacks on Cape Cod. Marcus worked from life, even on massive canvases outdoors. Her work was exhibited in New York by Alan Gallery, Zabriskie Gallery, ACA Gallery, and Terry Dintenfass Gallery in the 1960s and 70s; and collected by institutions including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA; and the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, NY. Marcus also had a distinguished career as a professor, with teaching positions and visiting professorships at over 20 institutions. Her work is represented by Eric Firestone Gallery, New York, which hosted a solo exhibition of her work in the Fall of 2017. All images © Marcia Marcus and courtesy of Eric Firestone Gallery, New York; unless otherwise noted.