Sunday, July 17, 2011

The White Goddess in Chicago

Seward Johnson's 26-foot "Forever Marilyn" has been provoking some controversy upon its installation last week in Pioneer Court, just northeast of the Michigan Avenue bridge in Chicago.

Abraham Ritchie blogged that:

"it caters to cheap titillation, titillation that is in itself pathetic. By making Monroe's panties visible, Johnson encourages voyeurism. When I visited it recently there were no less than three men taking pictures of Monroe's rear. If a clumsily rendered giantess puts wind in your sails, you have issues."

... then, demonstrating his higher education, he added:

"In artspeak, this piece reifies (makes real) the male gaze (dudes scoping out women"

Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune picked up the ball, adding that:

What's most disturbing about the sculpture, though, is not that it's mediocre. It's the fact that Marilyn Monroe was real. She wasn't a sci-fi amazon. She was more than an image. She was a real woman who died at the age of 36 of a drug overdose, perhaps by suicide. Inviting people to leer at her giant underpants is just icky.

While Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun Times dittos both of the above sentiments: it's a poorly done sculpture and we should be ashamed of ogling those panties:

" It’s not that the sculpture is shocking or sexist or obscene — but it’s definitely bringing out the juvenile goofball in many of us."

... and here are some other digs:

*This is not art that could be described as "making people think." Not by a long shot.

*It's creepy schlock from a fifth-rate sculptor that blights a first-rate public art collection.

*as tawdry as a peep show

*The original image is coy. Marilyn on the Mag Mile is crude.

Which is to say,
that even if "taste"
is irrelevant to contemporary art,
this sculpture
is in very bad taste.

But as "The Queer Guy" responded on Ritchie's blog:

"And as far as being replicated to death, it's for good reason! This is not only a symbol of sexual freedom, but for that of personal expression.

While I would add that the statue is also the dramatic emergence
of the White Goddess" ,
in this, her full moon, sexually active phase
(after virginity, and prior to the crone)

And it's only fitting
that people want to touch her

and connect to the fullness
of her sexual energy

especially young women themselves,
as they enter that period of their life,
and, of course, old men
who still stare upwards with wonder
at the great mystery.

Devotee that I am,
I have walked around the statue
with a camera
to offer people from around the world
views of our amazing statue,
as she was being worshiped
late Saturday afternoon

Isn't it delightful
how the forms of a monumental standing figure
can humanize the severity of the steel and glass boxes
of modern urban architecture?

Doesn't this look so much better than
the bent pipes and naked steel bars
of contemporary minimalist sculpture ?

Is this a great statue?


Thanks to half a century of iconoclasm
followed by irony-ridden pop art,
American figure sculpture is at a low ebb,
and this piece is
only really fit for
an amusement park.

As with the joke art made for Jeff Koons,
the artisans who actually modeled this piece
remain anonymous.

Incompetent modeling
has left these facial features feeling harsh,
so inappropriate for
the beloved triple-goddess.

While the hair looks like
lumps of gloppy vermicelli.

It's a little toy made big,
and nowhere is that more painful
than in this distant view.

But still,
it's a step in the right direction,
as this piece replaces this one ,
that was nothing more
than a joke twice removed.

Even without the references
to Marilyn Monroe and the Billy Wilder movie,
this is a meaningful pose.

Pushing down on her thighs,
(is she touching her crotch?),
the figure is lifting her head in ecstasy
while a strong wind from behind
is blowing up between her legs.

It's as if she's just discovering,
and delighting in,
her own sexuality
as she feels it
and others admire it.

Her innocent naughtiness
seems to epitomize American consumer culture
and the advertising that stimulates it,
so what could be a better place for her
than on the Magnificent Mile?

Like statues of Lincoln,
every American town
should have one.

If only sculptors as good
as Daniel Chester French
were still around to make them.

Once again,
Americans need to be reminded
that there is nothing wrong
with sexual energy
and the forms
that visually arouse it.

It's an appetite
that does need to be managed with discretion
in our daily lives,
but what doesn't?


Blogger dorian allworthy said...

Hello, I love this piece you wrote. Marilyn as a symbol is truly a white goddess for our time - one we can see and touch and in her see our selves and our own vitality. We never had to watch her grow old. She looms large.

Is it quite possible she was murdered ?

July 18, 2011  
Blogger marlyat2 said...

Okay, I'm avoiding working on my deadline!

So this is a flying visit... I'm terribly far behind, alas.

But it is fun to hear your voice again, your quirkiness and quickness to light on opposing points of view.

What bothers me about this piece is that one thing that Marilyn Monroe always seemed to have, particularly for men, was mystery. And this just strips it all away. Or says there wasn't any at all.

July 18, 2011  
Blogger chris miller said...

Marillyn murdered ? Perhaps, martyred ? All the more reason to erect shrines on her behalf.

Last night, Abraham Ritchie was joined by Laurie Palmer, a professor of sculpture at the School of the Art Institute, on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight".

Ritchie repeated his dismay over the undignified, voyeuristic response that it was receiving in Pioneer Court, while Laurie Palmer asserted that it could not even be considered public sculpture since it was done on private property and commissioned by a private corporation.

In response, Phil Ponce repeatedly asked them "But is it a good sculpture?"

No answer was forthcoming.

July 19, 2011  
Blogger chris miller said...

Won't there always be mystery in the enduring conflation of innocence and naughtiness?

And doesn't it belong at the entrance to that commerical theme park that's called the "Magnificent Mile", right beneath the windows of a publication, the Chicago Tribune, that's supported by advertising?

July 19, 2011  
Blogger Robert said...

It is an iconic American image, we may all interpret that differently, I agree it could be done better. As we could never see the photo in the round the artist must have made up the “panties” from his imagination. I’ll stop there! It’s a whole lot better than its predecessor!

September 14, 2011  
Blogger chris miller said...

Thanks for raising the topic, Robert.

Quite possibly this is the first ever public statue with a full view of a woman's panties.

And what could be a more American subject matter, combining, as it does, lust and prudishness.

BTW, the art editor of Chicago's New City weekly has requested alternative proposals for public sculpture from 26 local artists.

Here are the results, which, I think, only make the "Marilyn" look better, as coming closest to actually enhancing the surrounding space.

September 14, 2011  
Blogger missy louise said...

a wonderful article and i love your photos. i need to get a photo of me kissing Her feet. She is a truly a Beautiful Goddess

March 20, 2015  
Blogger chris miller said...

Yes, please send me that photo, Missy Louise -- and I will append it to this post.

March 20, 2015  

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