Contemporary Art

Contemporary Art

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 555. MARCIA MARCUS | SELF PORTRAIT IN WHITE DRESS.


This lot has been withdrawn

Lot Details



b. 1928


signed and dated 59 on the reverse

oil, sand and collage on canvas

Canvas: 60 by 37 in. (152.4 by 93.9 cm.)

Framed: 60¾ by 37⅝ in. (154.3 by 95.6 cm.)

Acquired directly from the artist in 2016

Sally Grant, "Art Review: Portraits by Marcia Marcus Look Deeply into Identity at Firestone," Hamptons Art Hub, 30 October 2017, online, illustrated in color

“Her historically pivotal, star-studded biography screams for greater recognition. Why does Marcus remain so little known?” (Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, “Critics’ Pick: Marcia Marcus, Eric Firestone Loft New York”, Artforum, October 2017)

As a student at Cooper Union and the Art Students League in the 1950s, Marcia Marcus was thoroughly involved in the downtown avant-garde scene, specifically showing her radically figurative artwork that shared many formal attributes with her peer Alex Katz, as part of some of the “Happenings” orchestrated by artists Allan Kaprow, Red Grooms and Bob Thompson. Considering Marcus’ artistic training, her social circles, her formal rigor, her prescient depiction of selfhood, womanhood, and motherhood, and her direct yet empathetic representations of her friends and extended community, it is almost overwhelming how relevant and resonant her pursuits, artistic vision, and values are today.

“You can detect similarities not only with the portraiture of Mr. Katz, but also with that of Barkley L. Hendricks, Sylvia Sleigh and particularly Alice Neel in one respect: Like Ms. Neel, Ms. Marcus painted a range of ethnicities, reminding us that the art world, in its best moments, was not ruled by the same sexist white supremacy that has often plagued art history.” (Martha Schwendener, “Marcia Marcus”, New York Times, November 14, 2017).

Her close friends, peers, and collaborators over the years include Red Grooms, Mimi Gross, Allan Kaprow, Richard Bellamy, Lucas Samaras, Alex Katz, and Lois Dodd—the list goes on. And she was present for, often leading the charge, through seminal artist-led initiatives in downtown New York City, such as March Gallery and the Delancey Street Museum. She unabashedly portrayed herself as a woman, wife, mother, lover, performer, hostess, empress, and friend in portraits over four decades—a period during which that kind of self-reflection and portrayal of motherhood and children, which is pervasive today, was shocking and radical.

As Jessica Bell Brown elegantly states, “Other aspects of identity, like race, were not above complication for Marcus. While one could surmise that Marcus’s performative self-portraits make space for a deconstruction of white womanhood through her practice of masquerade and masking, she viewed her subjects with an empathetic and generous lens, as seen in lesser known works like her vibrant portraits of black sitters, families and women in particular. At a time in the post-civil rights decade where American society may have been viewed as staunchly black and white, she seemed to thrive in the gray areas of life.” (Marcia Marcus, Role Play: Paintings 1958-1973)

While hard to imagine now in the context of our selfie-infused culture, Marcus’ self-portraiture was radical and rebellious for her time, for its frankness, fantasy, sensuality, and subjectivity. Retrospectively, she is often compared to Cindy Sherman, as she depicts herself performing identities of artist, mother, queen, friend, wife, and goddess, sometimes in full costumed regalia, other times stripped down to a simple frock and staring straight ahead with brush in hand. Marcus’s works are in several public collections including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.