“capturing the unsettling realism of actual events”
Commissioned by the American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial, Inc., this memorial was conceived in 1976. In 1988, after an extensive competition, the artist Marisol Escobar (b. 1930), known as Marisol, was chosen to develop her design. Situated off-shore from the north end of Battery Park and just south of Pier A, the monument stands on a rebuilt stone breakwater in the harbor. The bronze figural group and boat are based on an actual historical event, during World War II, a Nazi U-boat attacked a merchant marine vessel, and while the mariners clung to their sinking vessel, the Germans photographed their victims. Marisol developed a series of studio sketches from this photograph, then fashioned a clay maquette as her winning design proposal for the monument. The work was dedicated on October 8, 1991. Marisol was born in Paris, and spent most of her childhood in Venezuela. After studying art in Paris and Los Angeles she moved to Greenwich Village in the 1950s, where she was first influenced by abstract expressionism, and then developed a reputation for her highly stylized boxy sculptured figures. She was inspired by pre-Columbian and American folk art, as well as the growing pop-art movement, and by the 1960s, her style had evolved into satirical assemblages which commented on American society. Her diverse work defies simplistic classification, as she has explored particular themes and aesthetic criteria as they related to specific commissions. In 1967, Marisol exhibited a piece entitled Three Figures in the group outdoor exhibition in the city’s parks entitled Sculpture in Environment. That work was minimalist and geometric. Since then, Marisol has exhibited in numerous public settings, often employing traditional figurative techniques, as in her designs for an unrealized monument to the Brooklyn Bridge’s engineers, the Roeblings, and in the American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial. The American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial Inc., chaired by the president of the AFL-CIO, Lane Kirkland, sought to commemorate the thousands of merchant ships and crews pressed into military service since the Revolutionary War. In World War II alone it is estimated that 700 American merchant ships were lost, and 6,600 mariners gave their lives in this global conflict. Marisol has captured an unsettling realism, drawn from the faded photograph, but also dependent on the ebb and flow of the harbor’s tides. One figure, struggling beside the boat, is submerged each tidal cycle, a technical motif that compounds the work’s emotional dynamic. Though specific in its imagery, the monument honors the thousands of merchant mariners who have died at sea in the course of our nation’s history.
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