The Seven Year Itch meets Kitsch

    Forever Marilyn 
    Chicago, Illinois 2011

    Madonna of Mercy  
    Siena, Italy (c. 1308)
    Simone Martini  


    Marilyn in Chicago means curves against grid, which is always exciting!

    From top: Barcelona Pavilion with Georg Kolbe's Dawn
    Federal Center Chicago with Alexander Calder's Flamingo 
    Cell from "Mad Men" opening sequence
    Forever Marilyn photo from Business Week 

    But not always tasteful.

    The sculpture of Marilyn Monroe on Chicago's Michigan Avenue, erected by the management of the Equitable building behind it and not by the city, is only temporary, thank goodness. Based on the famous subway breeze scene in Billy Wilder's 1955 film, "The Seven Year Itch," Seward Johnson's twenty-six foot tall sculpture is due to be removed next spring. I wonder if other cities will want it?

    Milton H. Greene, photographer, Marilyn Monroe, 1956 

    Andy Warhol understood curves against grid.

    In greater Toronto, Ma Yansong and MAD Studio's new Absolute World South tower, like Jeanne Gang's Aqua Tower in Chicago, blends the grid and curves. Ma's is known as "Marilyn Monroe." Wonder why?

    Japanese architect Arata Isozaki put in the "Monroe curve" in his Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

    A Marilyn reference makes more sense in Los Angeles, where she's from and worked in Hollywood. The Seven Year Itch takes place in New York. But there is a Chicago possibility. They might have sculpted her pose from Hugh Hefner's Playboy issue Number 1, from December, 1953.

    This, as a 26 foot high statue, would have been less vulgar. Interesting how the layout of this cover places squares and rectangles against her curves in modernist fashion. 

    This reminds me of what Rem Koohaas wrote in "Miestakes," around the time he was designing the  student center at the Mies-designed campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology-
    In all my visits to Chicago, I learned only one new thing from the Miesians, or actually two. 
    One, Mies had received a letter from Hugh Hefner once, asking him to do the Playboy Headquarters–Mies had said no, for reasons no longer accessible. 
    Two, Mies’ model shop had a (frequently exploited) view of the photo studios of Playboy Magazine–all during the Fifties and Sixties, Mies’ architecture and the first generation of playmates had been fabricated in voyeuristic proximity.
    Mining for meaning in Marilyn, aren't we all?

    Richard Serra, "Marilyn Monroe - Greta Garbo," 1981, Cor-ten steel 


    Niki de Sainte Phalle, Jean Tinguely and Per Olof Ultvedt 
    "hon-en katedral," 1966 

    Former New York Times architecture critic, the late Herbert Muschamp called Frank Gehry's Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, "the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe."

    Howard Finster, "Marilyn Monroe" 

    Willem De Kooning, "Marilyn Monroe," 1954  

    Claes Oldenburg, "Ghost Wardrobe (for M.M.)"  
    Photo © Thomas Wagner, Stylepark

    Click on this "Church of Marilyn Monroe" scene from Ken Russell's 1975 film "Tommy," for the full mind-blowing effect.

    As awful as the iconography is in that video, at least it "uses" Marilyn to say something, about idolatry and religion gone amok. That's more message than you'll find in Chicago's Marilyn. At best it speaks of desire, like many a modern building and plaza; alas, this, in the most simplistic way.

    Chicago is becoming a more feminine city, all dolled up with flowers and newer buildings that are less hard-edged; you've come a long way, baby, from your past as "hog-butcher to the world." Is this Marilyn mascot then the Colossus of Chicago, a modern dance partner, perhaps, for the Colossus of Rhodes?

    And art as commerce-- is she so different from those Calvin Klein underwear ads seen in cities around the world?

    To sum up, I can only extrapolate from Barbara Kruger's piece on Marilyn. 

    We have met the meaning of Marilyn, and it is us.

    More on Chicago's Marilyn, here.

    And while we're at it, let's pit the Second City against New York. On view in New York through September, on the Mies van der Rohe-designed Seagram Plaza, in front of his Seagram Building, sits this tall sculpture.

    "Untitled (Lamp/Bear)", by Swiss artist Urs Fischer.

    (The pairing recalls Mark Wallinger's bear, seen in 2007 below the gridded ceiling of Mies van der Rohe's New National Gallery in Berlin.) 

    So, which do you prefer, Chicago's "Forever Marilyn" or New York's yellow teddy?

    And tell us your thoughts on the new kitsch on the block, Chicago's "Forever Marilyn."

    Hello Beautiful!

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Happy 100th Birthday John Lautner!

    Happy Birthday, Iconoclast! No one has designed L.A. residential architecture quite as spectacular since you've been gone (1911-1994). One of my all-time favorites, for his reverence of nature, that his spaces make me gaze at the heavens and see connections, with stars and celestial beings, he blurs land, sky and water, mixes solid and air, practices a humane modernity based on nature, finds low-cost solutions with progressive engineering, he infuses his work with optimism despite his own crankiness. John Lautner was born one hundred years ago today.

    See a calendar of events to honor him here.  

    My childhood (in rural Michigan), I had a hundred miles of beaches, private beaches, you know: no people, no nothing. I mean, just go swimming anywhere you want, and no problem. The coast here to me is just ugly, you know, it's crazy. Malibu is nothing to me, it's just crazy." ... Oh it was depressing. I mean, when I first drove down Santa Monica Boulevard, it was so ugly I was physically sick for the first year I was here. Because after living in Arizona and Michigan and Wisconsin, mostly out in the country, and mostly with good architecture ... this was the ugliest thing I'd ever seen ... If you tried to figure out how to make a row of buildings ugly, you couldn't do it any better than it's been done [here]. I mean they're just ugly, naturally ugly, all the way. There isn't a single, legitimate, good-looking thing anywhere.

    From "Responsibility, Infinity, Nature" — John Lautner interviewed by Marlene L. Laskey, Oral History Program, University of Los Angeles, California, 1986

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If the Chicago Tribune had built Adolph Loos' design for Tribune Tower

    Computer generated, here

    Via John Crosse, who reminds us that Loos' design was surely tied to a Louis Sullivan Kindergarten Chat:
    His design makes an obvious reference to Sullivan's chapter, "A Doric Column" which derided in great detail a design competition for a memorial for the 200th anniversary of the discovery and founding of the City of Detroit. (Note: Sullivan disparaged the Doric Column throughout the Chats). Loos must have been quite pleased with the triple entendre his entry presented and must have had great fun with it's design, obviously knowing that his hero Sullivan would see it and realize his inside joke. Sullivan ended his Doric Column chapter chastising the unnamed architect and the selection process with,
    "So much for decay, so much for cynicism, for pessimism, for the downfall of the sturdy American pioneer, the hunter, the trapper, the woodsman, the riverman, the greatest in the world, the hardiest, the truest and the best - and their memory to consummate in what? A "Doric" Column! In any other land, in any other time, this would seem a fairy tale, so faithless sounds the story - so inhuman a response." (Kindergarten Chats by Louis Sullivan, Scarab Press, p. 62).
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Hello Beautiful Fourth of July!

    Expand to full screen for best view

    Video Flag Z
    Nam June Paik

    (recently restored)
    Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

    On view through July 4.

    "This arrangement of eighty-four television sets in Video Flag Z 
    creates a vision of America from found video footage. "

    More than ever, do your part to keep America great.
    Happy Fourth!  

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