If the last two J. Seward Johnson sculptures have just been simply bad, Johnson’s latest kitsch-extravaganza to occupy Pioneer Plaza is downright creepy and sexist. It’s a giant Marilyn Monroe holding down her dress from the famous subway scene in “The Seven Year Itch” (1955). Move to the rear and you get a view of her panties.
Quoted in the Chicago Tribune, Melissa Farrell of Zeller Realty Group (the corporate owner of the plaza and selector of J. Seward Johnson), says about Johnson’s sculpture, “(Paul Zeller) likes to bring in things that cause a conversation. . . They might be controversial, but he likes art that makes people think.”
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.
This sculpture 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.
Monroe is presented as an object for male consumption (though females may certainly participate), as a transitory moment is creepily frozen in time. The eroticism of the actual scene in the movie is drained out as the moment lasts eternally.
In artspeak, this piece reifies (makes real) the male gaze (dudes scoping out women).
Sadly, the reduction of Monroe to a mere sexual object is exactly what may have contributed to her suicide. Johnson seems not to realize this.
It’s ironic that Zeller Realty Group is using this piece to get publicity for their business. What kind of message does that send to perspective clients? We’re voyeurs? We objectify women? We’re tasteless? We’re tacky? We have no clue when it comes to art? That’s what I came away with. A professional curator is desperately needed for Pioneer Plaza. Zeller should get one, this is just embarrassing.
It’s too bad that by virtue of the client this chunk of ersatz culture is receiving more attention than the much more deserving actual (not to mention, quality) culture that is happening in Chicago all the time.