Life after death takes on new meaning in the art world when painters and sculptors are recognized only after they die. It took Van Gogh two decades to be recognized and Vermeer two centuries.

A recent example is Carmen Herrera, a painter of hard-edged, geometric abstractions. She died this month at 106 and only made her first sale at age 89. That was when Laura Cumming, art critic for the London Observer saw her work for the first time and wondered: “How can we have missed these brilliant compositions?”

What took so long?

Can the answer be that women haven’t been the arbiters of taste in the past?

I’m thinking of another story this month about the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, purchasing a wood figure sculpture by pop artist Marisol Escobar titled "Magritte II." (More about this work in a moment).

The Tulsa World quoted Philbrook Museum’s deputy director Rachel Keith saying that the purchase is a signature work by “the most important pop artist you’ve never heard of.” Presumably, she’s referring to the fact that Marisol who came to prominence in the early 1960s, was all but forgotten by the time she died in 2016 at age 85.

Philbrook Museum’s purchase is one in a series by Marisol of Rene Magritte, who, like her, toyed with reality with humor. The umbrella in the work is one of Magritte’s signature picture parts.

But Marisol layered the sculpture with something else – the issue of aging. Art Daily quoted her saying: “In the United States there is this thing about youth, but I think old age is nice, too.” She was 68 when she made "Magritte II," pointedly using the wood grain for wrinkles on the Surrealist’s face.

Lock her up

While Marisol portrayed other men besides Magritte like John Wayne and Andy Warhol, female figures dominated her work.

And, invariably, she portrayed them in blocks of wood to appear jailed. That was her take on what she saw as the suffocating roles that women traditionally play.

"Women and Dog," for example, shows three women, a little girl and a dog, each standing at attention like show dogs. Showing women in circumscribed lives included the sculptor herself.

"Self-Portrait" describes seven heads with different hairstyles on bodies locked in stockade-like blocks.

This lineup of different Marisols was her way of exploring female identity. Art history Nancy Heller quotes her in the 1987 book “Women Artists” saying: “There comes a point where you start asking, ‘Who am I?’ I was trying to find out through my sculpture.”

The fact that Marisol created chilling imagery of herself comes out of her view that women artists aren’t as well regarded as men: “Much of women’s work throughout history has been relegated to the decorative and folk arts, and the latter comes out less important. It’s as if fine art were basically Western male.”

Maybe with museum directors like Rachel Keith and art critics like Laura Cumming artists like Carmen Herrera and Marisol Escobar won’t have to be dead before they’re recognized.