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."

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