Marilynn Karp is a sculptor whose mixed media, found object works are represented in collections nationally and abroad. She holds a doctorate in physics and aesthetics and has taught art and material culture at New York University for 42 years. Karp is the author of In Flagrante Collecto: Caught in the Act of Collecting (Abrams 2006) as well as the forthcoming book Uncorked: A Corkscrew Collection (Abbeville 2020). She has given interviews, presented papers, and appeared on panels at museums and universities on various topics within the purview of collecting. She is the president of the Anonymous Arts Recovery Society, and a trustee and board member of the Preservation League of New York State. Karp divides her time between her New York City studio and a farmhouse in upstate New York.
"In April 1957 I was in my sophomore year at Hunter College with a four-hour break between classes on Tuesdays and I was a dedicated walker in my city. On this particular clear, early spring day in Manhattan, in bright streaming sunlight, I passed shops on lower Second Avenue, window browsing. A window lettered Variety Store came into view. A haphazard array of stuff attracted my attention. Legs of condensation trickled down the interior of the glass revealing a deflated beachball couching dead flies, a few skeins of embroidery threads with unglued fatigued wrapper labels, a sun-bleached deck of playing cards, faded crepe paper, a dusty stack of glass cups. A branch from a pine tree had been painted white and stuck into a perforated convex metal base with a flat bottom, perhaps to provide a hint of long-gone Xmas joy and the availability of former seasonal merchandise. Maybe the imitation tree itself had been for sale. Apparently, the metal base had accumulated enough present moisture to nudge the branch to life and tiny green buds had formed, responding to the sunlight, in the crotch of each twig. The urgency of nature in this unanticipated happenstance was astonishing. This was a moment of cosmic consciousness for me...and a flashpoint.
Cyclical occurrence is natural, predictable. I’ve been thinking about where art and truly new ideas come from. There is latent potential in the ordinary. I try to enlist the inherent surprise lurking unrealized in the expected...what are familiar objects/ideas capable of becoming? If we are careful observers, if we actually look to see, we are surrounded by surprising wonders and memorable instances of unions of nature-in-action-with-manufacture. My visual life is rife with these doings.
Occasionally an artifact can be taken for a natural object...crucible slag can pretend to be a nest, a 100-sided die may pose as an egg, a lumber wedge may masquerade as a mushroom -and- conversely, a naturally occurring hive, nest, seed, bud, shell or fruit might be taken for a manmade contrivance. I play with the idea of unions of these confounding things and their settings. I’m attracted to inventing landscapes, gardens, maps, sites, conditions, situations and incidents out of duplicitous natural ingredients and fraudulent manmade bits and pieces. It is important to me that the component parts be familiar to you, the viewer, and mysterious in their new sculptural contexts." - Marilynn Gelfman Karp