Art & Culture in Chicago

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Marilyn Again

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It’s difficult to evaluate an exhibition of artwork about Marilyn Monroe because I inevitably find myself annoyed by the repetitiveness of seeing her image over and over again. 

To be fair to the curator, though, I must chalk it up to the ubiquitousness of her image in the world and simply focus on the pieces that leave her out of the picture, which I tended to enjoy the most.



The exhibition is currently on show at the Chicago Cultural Center and is largely made up of documentary photos and films of Marilyn Monroe, expressionistic representations of her and reproductions of her image, and artists modeling themselves after her. The theme of being able to recognize Marilyn from the tiniest clue is repeated throughout- a platinum bob, a mole, a famous pose.

Meandering through, I realized that many of my favorite pieces in the show were both interesting and cute- two words I don’t normally see together that, when paired, also describe Marilyn when she was at her best.One of these pieces, and one of the first in the walk-through, was Erwin Wurm’s “Thinking about Marilyn”, a charming and simple line drawing of the artist thinking about Marilyn. That’s all.

After trying to hold down some vomit while I listened to a docent’s admirative explanation of a heavy-handed triptych by Daniel Spoerri, I stumbled across a nice little assemblage in a corner by C.O. Paeffgen called “Marilyn Monroe Knuppel.” (Apparently Knuppel means bludgeon.) It was a tree limb cut to about 1 meter, painted Pepto Bismol pink, with a white electrical-wire bow tied around the top and a Warhol portrait of MM glued to the front.

Crammed in a corner nearby were a couple little Roy Fettinger paintings that were really delicate and beautifully rendered. They appeared to be film stills featuring Marilyn. I think one of the things that wooed me about these paintings is that MM’s presence in the paintings was understated and the composition and painterliness of them was the focus.

Then, I was drawn to a photo-portrait by Richard Avedon of Marilyn with her hair dyed pink, screaming at the camera. It’s exuberant and a little David Lynch-esque. It was intriguing because I couldn’t tell who was posing- I thought it was someone imitating her, and I wonder now if I didn’t recognize her because her hair wasn’t blonde or “Norma Jean” brown. Another strong piece was a photograph by Andy Warhol called “Andy Warhol looks like Marilyn Monroe”, a very funny black and white portrait of Warhol in a towel with a blonde wig and makeup on. Of course, it is funny because he doesn’t look like her at all, and is a reminder of how anyone can put on a wig and retro makeup and at least allude to MM.


There were a ton of famous and beautiful photographs of her included as well as countless lame and cliché pieces that really didn’t need to be there, but I won’t bore you with those details.

I walked away from this exhibition, reminded that Marilyn Monroe was a beautiful woman and that she is very famous. She is so famous that her image is hardly the image of a person anymore; it is a stamp- a representation of an idea. But, we all knew that already. Go to the show because it is free and because it’s nice to look at beautiful women, just don’t go expecting to learn anything new about the woman we already know everything about.


Written by Kelly Reaves

September 15, 2008 at 6:35 am

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