Marilyn Monroe sculpture: icon or sexism

It’s the talk of Chicago:   the new 26 foot tall sculpture of Marilyn Monroe on Pioneer Court on Michigan Avenue.   Sculpted by Seward Johnson, known for his massive figures taken from famous paintings and photos, this highly visible piece of art is drawing lots of comments : “Beautiful”— “it exploits women”— “she was an icon and a piece of history”—”hey, you can see her panties!”   Even some of my favorite columnists are suggesting that if they want to feature important women, why Marilyn?

If you haven’t see it yet, the statue depicts Marilyn in her famous white dress caught in the draft of a street vent  (you know the one).   I consider myself a feminist and have fought for many women’s issues related to sexism and discrimination.   I also love greater-than-life-sized outdoor sculptures because they  make you notice art (there is a waiting line to take pictures of  big Marilyn).   These works create interest in a city filled with blocks of highrises.

I admit, I’m not thrilled that some people (mainly boys and men) are standing under her skirt and taking pictures of her underwear. This is  especially puzzling since the original photo was considered a bit racy because it showed her lovely legs—from toe to hip!  You really could not see (what it turns out to be) quite modest panties.  Go to Oak Street Beach if you want skimpy!  Are they looking because they never saw what was under her skirt in the original photos?   Are they hoping to be shocked?  I doubt anyone today is so repressed that they get some kind of kick out of this view–you just need to turn on the TV or open a magazine if you want to see sexy underwear.

Now, on to the historical side. I have pictures of my mother and her lady friends taken in the 1950′s-60′s when their platinum blond hairdos and bright red lips and nails were the style of the day.  They wore high heels and pretty suits and dresses.  These women were mothers who also worked as den mothers, teacher assistants and secretaries.  They belonged to bridge and bunco clubs and ran fashion shows and bingo events to raise money for their churches and schools.   Some of these women were the first in their families to have enough money to dress fashionably.    My mother was hard working, lots of fun, and never the “little lady”.  She even started a business when she turned 50!

The bottom line:    I think the statue is a fun and engaging piece of art that makes me smile(and think of my mother!).   Marilyn was a cultural icon who was a celebrity and had a life that ended far too young.     As far as those nitwits photographing under her skirt, get a life.   Her shoes are more interesting!