"Forever Marilyn" Statue

July 23, 2011 — Right now, in one of the largest cities in the country, a six-foot-wide pair of white panties dominates one of the city’s most visible public spaces.

That city is Chicago, that public space is Pioneer Court, and those six-foot-wide panties are wrapped around the gigantic metal buttocks of a 26-foot-tall statue of actress Marilyn Monroe.

Called Forever Marilyn, the recently erected statue depicts one of Monroe’s most famous images, drawn from the 1955 Billy Wilder-directed and New York-based flick The Seven-Year Itch. In that scene, after exiting a showing of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Monroe’s skirt is blown up by a subway grate, infecting her with the pathogen that gives her the titular condition.

Sort of cools the ankles, indeed.

Actually, the statue is more The Seven-Year Itch meets Attack of the 50-foot Woman. It’s also kind of atrocious.

And it’s no surprise that it’s the work of J. Seward Johnson, Jr., whose installation of Norma Jean’s private places in this public one is just another in his series of turning images we’ve all seen too many times three-dimensional and extremely large. He needs to fire his muse, I guess. Seward’s done this with that image of the U.S. Navy sailor kissing the nurse and, on the exact same spot as Forever Marilyn, the American Gothic farmers. I mean, I like his The Awakening enough that I visited it twice in two different locations (here and here), but that was an original vision creatively rendered.

Here, in this statue version of “Remember that scene from that one movie? That was cool,” Seward merely creates the world’s largest upskirt shot.

It’s not really worth seeing, but it’s kind of hard not to. Before you even have time to say, “So this is Chicag…Oh my,” you’ll pass by it. The realistically painted stainless steel and aluminum statue stands prominently in high heels in front of the former Equitable building at 401 N. Michigan Ave, and is bookended by the Tribune tower on her right and the Chicago River on her left.

You’ll probably not notice all that, though, as you’ll be too busy staring up her skirt. It’s not your (or my) fault. It’s Johnson’s.

Still, as cheesy as the statue is and as infinitely better uses of the space as there could be, there is something dramatic about seeing it up against the skyscrapers of Chicago. Then again, you could say that about anything giant, a giant Toucan Sam, a giant pineapple, a giant box of dental floss (not sure how to arrange those three for optimal effect). Giant for giant’s sake is just subgenre of kitsch, with very little value other than as a tourist photo…or website fodder.

Fortunately, it’s not a permanent piece of Chicago, and will only be there through the spring of 2012…but that just means it might be coming to your town next.

In the movie, the scene at topic is a flirtatious, leggy few seconds. Frozen and enlarged, it’s just a bloated, tacky monstrosity. Of course, most of us don’t know the image from its demure appearance in the movie anyway (you never saw her underwear in the scene), but from the many, much more unabashed PR shots taken during and after the filming. Heck, it’s said that the actual shooting of this scene is the reason her then-husband Joe DiMaggio divorced her.

I’m not sure what Joltin’ Joe would think of Johnson’s version of it, but something tells me his dusty finger bones are reaching through the loam for his best home run bat as we speak.