Giant Marilyn Monroe is Creepy, Sexist

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.



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  • I love it...maybe because I'm not gay....and I like looking at women's legs, especially if they're 26 feet tall.

    Tomorrow, I'll be under that skirt taking at least 50 pictures. Why? Because I'm a red-blooded American man, and I would certainly try to tap that if that thing was actually alive and walking among us.

  • In reply to gwill:

    Well, I am gay and I think there is nothing wrong with this sculpture. It is another case of everyone that has nothing to say waiting for something to come along to be able to say something about it. It's art people, nothing offensive here. Besides this is modeled after the WOMAN that made this pose famous, so get over yourselves!

    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.

    To those of you who do not like, don't look at it! And Gwill, if that "thing" was actually alive and walking around, I am sure it would run fast and far away from you!

  • ...I'm with gwill. They should make it permanent!

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    I guess this author thinks Warhol's work isn't art as well. This Piece is less offending than most bathing suits you will find at North Beach. Reads more like a hatchet job/ job application for the Zeller Realty Group.

  • In reply to Gregory Curtis:

    Please note I never stated that this work isn't art. In fact I described it as culture, ersatz culture, but still culture. I think that Warhol's Monroe-related art is incredible but it operates in totally different ways than Johnson's. As to Zeller Group, since they are using the work to promote their business and brand these are very obvious questions I'm asking, questions that should have been asked from the outset.

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    In reply to Abraham Ritchie:

    Were you castrated via surgery or did you just stick a piece of wood between your teeth and lean back while a feminazi cut your balls & shaft off? Either way, they ain't growin' back.

  • The artist is not responsible for how people react to their art. When the giant nude Boteros were installed on Michigan Ave, I saw many people taking pictures of themselves in titillating positions with the sculptures. People are goofy that way.

    This is a representation of an iconic image, that has been frozen in time by photography, the actual movie and other artists. Why is this particular version creepy to you? Because it's big? You are definitely entitled to your opinion, but I think it says more about you than the art piece or the artist or the company that commissioned the piece.

    Monroe may have been taken advantage of during her career, (I would argue that she was complicit in her marketing as a sex goddess), but in this series of images, she appears to be reveling in herself as a gorgeous woman in a sexy dress on a hot summer night.

    And accounts from that photo shoot say that men were behaving the same way as they are reacting to this giant Marilyn. I even wonder if that is part of the artist's intent in creating this art piece?

    Based on this artist's previous work, I bet the top part is going to be something completely different than the original art work, so I would wait until it is fully unveiled before offering a critique.

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    In reply to annoir:

    "Why is this particular version creepy to you? Because it's big? You are definitely entitled to your opinion, but I think it says more about you than the art piece or the artist or the company that commissioned the piece."

    Brilliantly put.

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    You sound like a classy guy, gwill.

    I'm not so much offended about the objectifying women aspect; moreso, I'm just disappointed that this is the kind of "art" we are displaying in this city. This image of Monroe has been replicated to death. What's next, a giant Elvis? Boring, tacky, & lame. Definitely not thought-provoking. Also, I'm not impressed by someone taking other people's images and making them bigger. He's just a statue maker.

  • To quote the movie STRIPES (a movie that I'm sure you would dislike for hundreds of reasons), "Lighten up, Francis."

    And hey, gwill - I am gay, and I still A) love it and B) want to tap that! Sure, I also want to borrow her dress, but still... :-)

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    In reply to stephenrad:

    Damn you beat me to it, I just said that above, but this guy really needs to lighten up, Francis. This is a sculpture of one of the most iconic photographs in American history. People will get indignant about anything these days.

  • To Jimmy Greenfield and the CN staff >>>> this is why you guys need to get threaded comments up and running asap. I want to reply to like four people below me and it would just look silly if I make four comments in a row.

    So here's quick replies:

    @stephenrad, you'll need to get by me first to get to her. In my experience, tall women and amazons in general love the sauce I cook.

    @TheQueerGuy, I love ya man, and I say that in the straightest way possible. I don't think giant Marilyn would run away from me. It would be more like a reverse King Kong effect.

    @SarahPerez, I'll just assume you meant no sarcasm. Thanks for calling me a classy!

    @EricSmith, after taking photos under her skirt today, I completely agree that the city should make it permanent. Great place to shelter from the rain.

  • In reply to gwill:

    gwill - "Great place to shelter from the rain." Okay, that is brilliant AND made me laugh out loud. And not that fake "LOL" crap either. I mean, the real deal! :-)

  • I didn't think Johnson's sculpture could get much worse; now this. Then on the other hand, when a Chicago artist tried their hand at public art for the leering masses, we got a stupid giant eyeball.

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    Correction: this piece of "art" does make me think. It makes me think about how comfortable our society is with objectifying women. It makes me think about how my opinion of this statue is likely to be disregarded as irrational or oversensitive by many, maybe most.

    I understand the statue's appeal. Even as a straight female feminist - I get it.. It's sexy. Marilyn is a beautiful woman. But it doesn't surprise me that the majority of approval on this blog comes from males.

    There's nothing wrong with finding the statue initially appealing and attractive. No doubt a "red blooded American man" is going to think its hot and fun to look at. It's biological. But if someone tried to explain to one of these red blooded men why they find this particular piece of art unfavorable, I hope that man would listen. I hope he would look past his red blood and whatever Marilyn's objectified beauty stirs in him and take a moment to understand why the statue might stir up more negative reactions in others. He doesn't have to agree with them. I'm not in the business of forcing things on people. I just hope he would try to understand that as real as his positive opinion of this statue is, the opinions of those who find it offensive, sexist, and tasteless are just as real.

    It's not fun for everyone.

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    Lighten up, Francis.

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    Interesting take on the sculpture, but I think your indictment should be more against mankind than the artist.

    Down near Wall Street in Manhattan there is a large sculpture of a charging bull, who has tennis-ball sized testicles. The polish on the sculpture has weathered nicely in the last 20 years, but the testicles have not fared so well. They are a shiny bright metallic yellow from the millions of tourists rubbing them each and every day.

    Here are photos of said tourists doing just that.

    Any - I repeat ANY - anatomy, even on animals, is going to bring out the adolescent in lots of us. It's built into our DNA.

    No matter how the statue of Ms. Monroe turned out, as long as there is a way for people to "upskirt" her, it will be done.

    This is humanity.

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    People.... she has NO HEAD. How much further can you take objectification than to remove her identifying features - unless you admit that you think her identifying features only involve her body?

  • Excellent insight into art, women and culture. Thanks for 'dropping the other shoe.'

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    I'm male.

    I don't find it all that "sexy". It's smooth, hard, material that doesn't look entirely realistic, and plus, everyone has a butt. I just don't see it as an object of attraction -- TO ME. But artistically, I think the piece is extremely important.

    A feminist reaction is just as much a valid reaction as nostalgia, titillation (for some; again, not me), thoughtfulness, introspection, and admiration for the quality of work on that realistic-looking dress. I'm so impressed how it really does look like air is blowing that "fabric" all over the place. (Reminds me of a piece I saw once which was just a scrunched up ball of paper -- but carved by the artist out of single block of material!)

    All these human reactions are VALUE the sculpture gives ME, an art lover. I can observe Francis and her reaction, plus the whole spectrum of reactions. None of these responses is "wrong". Francis has every right to have her opinion based on her perspective of life.

    To me, the statue isn't a sexual object, and I don't see it as disrespectful or objectification (apart from the obvious fact that Marilyn was turned into an object as par for the course of her career). It IS accurate to the scene, only blown up many times. Does that mean the artist INTENDED for it to be perved on?

    Francis, I wonder if you would have a problem with the piece if it was located somewhere that people couldn't access? You could still see it from far back, but have no way to look up the dress. Would that change the piece for you, Francis?

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    In reply to Seymour Brighton:

    Replace "Francis" with "Abraham" in my post. My reading comprehension sucks at 4 in the morning.

  • There is nothing offensive whatsoever about the female form, but there is something distressing and disappointing about segmenting that form solely for purposes of novelty and titillation, which this piece absolutely does.

    As a public art decision, this one is not up to standard for this world-class city. We are not a way station for frat boys or tourists, (even if Michigan Avenue surely is.)

  • Thank you, Abraham, for initiating this discussion!

    Could you tell us what parts of this statue you think are "clumsily rendered"?

    If the figure were better done (as if Verocchio, Manzu, or Daniel Chester French had modeled it), would it no longer "cater to cheap titillation"?

    And if Johnson had not offered recognizable panties, would it be any less voyeuristic?

    Do you happen to think that the shirtless young female in Lorado Taft's Fountain of the Great Lakes (a few blocks south on Michigan Avenue) is any less titillating and voyeuristic?

    Or, are you opposed to any depiction of a young, attractive, litely clad female in a prominent public place like Pioneer Court?

  • I actually saw this "spectacle" scuptor that's creating all this Buzz around town and "what not" and must say that it was well done scuptor but however evethough being a relatively young man myself I can appreciate the beauty of women (after all God intended the women be the crown of man just as the crown of God is man) I do believe that there comes a point where you ought to draw a line in the sand from appreciation and debachery or sexual idolatry. I believe that this is a conspicious out grrowth of the "sexxxual" idolatry that is both prevelant and so pervasive in not just the main stream media with movies, music videos and tv programming but as to the pervasive influence that porn has on culture and society as a whole. I do believe that this is the embodiment and personification of how much we have been desensitize to the lewd and crude influences that have not only abounded but have also reached it's pinacle of lasciviousness (sexually unchaste and corrupted) and debachery(to lead away from moral and to corrupt). And we wonder why America has gone down the tubes in it's economic crisis and people cannot connect the dots and see that we have become so ungodly and have been self-goverened to suffice without the guidance and deriction of God; that this is a desperate cry and attempt to fill the void of a much deeper root and underlying problem that is more prevelant. Is it anycoincidence that as our econmoic woes have abounded that we have also abounded in debachery and licentiousness as a result of being an ungodly nation.
    Proverbs 14:34 Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people
    2 Chronicle 7:14 "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

  • First of all, if we are ruling out art because it is creepy and/or sexist, you can say adios to the entire Western canon (to which I would probably take little issue). I believe your headline does a disservice to the bigger problem here, that the statue is being mistaken as art at all. The fact is that Johnson's statues are computer generated from pre-existing photographs and mechanically manufactured. There is no creative or intellectual process on Johnson's behalf. Why discuss this in an art blog? I say save your snarky banter for work deserving of the "is this art?" debate-- This is just not it. Copyright infringement talk might be more appropriate for Johnson's gigantic figurine. On another note, 80 something year-old Johnson seems to have a fascination with up-skirts of iconic vintage images of women (see his series of statues "Unconditional Surrender"). THAT is creepy.

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    I find this huge statue of Marilyn Monroe EXTREMELY OBSCENE to her memory. The video shoot (of this image) was a source of marital strife between Marilyn and her husband, NY Yankee, DiMaggio, which resulted in their divorce. Marilyn was FAR removed from that dumb-blonde image she peddled. She far more brilliant than just someone's sleezy wet dream, pinup doll. Absolutely disgraceful!!

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