Category Archives: Art and Photography

Recreating Marilyn’s ‘Potato Sack’ Shoot

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Lucy Mecklenburgh for Asda

Reality TV star Lucy Mecklenburgh has recreated Marilyn’s famous ‘potato sack’ photo shoot as part of a campaign to promote ‘healthy carbs’ for UK supermarket Asda, reports The Sun.

Marilyn by Earl Thiesen (1951)
Marilyn by Earl Thiesen (1951)

“There are two theories as to why Marilyn Monroe originally wore a sack of potatoes in her 1951 photoshoot.

One is that Twentieth Century Fox capitalised on a female journalist suggesting the actress would look better in a sack of potatoes than a particular vulgar red dress.

The other is that someone simply made an off-the-cuff comment about her being so attractive she could make even a sack of potatoes look good, Twentieth Century Fox then taking the stills to prove him right.”

Last Chance for ‘Warhol Avedon’ in London

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The Warhol Avedon exhibit, which opened in February at London’s Gagosian, will close on April 23, and Hazel Rowland has reviewed it for the Apollo magazine blog – with specific reference to Warhol and Avedon’s images of Marilyn.

“The similarities between photographer Richard Avedon and artist Andy Warhol are almost uncanny. Both came from modest American backgrounds, both had substantial commercial success working in New York in the 1940s, and both then went on to develop their own distinctive artistic styles away from the commercial world in the 1960s. They treated similar subjects too: both captured the influential and the famous, and took an interest, often from a cynical standpoint, in the world of celebrity…

This is developed further in Warhol’s Four Marilyns (1979­–86), a set of silkscreened portraits depicting Marilyn Monroe: Warhol became obsessed with portraying the star following her suicide in 1962. The use of repetition here is not only representative of Warhol’s work – the artist played with notions of seriality throughout his career – but of Pop art more generally, which often drew on images of mass production. This fascination with Monroe emphasises Warhol’s cynical view towards the superficiality of celebrity. He robs her face of all colour, leaving instead a black and white, ghostly image, with only the essence of Monroe’s facial features remaining.

Avedon’s portrayal of the star is markedly different, however. His 1957 photograph of Monroe betrays the photographer’s greater – and perhaps more conventional – desire to convey the sitter’s inner nature. Monroe is all dolled-up and wearing a shimmering dress, yet Avedon captures her at a moment when she is off-guard. She looks subdued and inward: here is perhaps a flicker of what lies beneath this endlessly performing star.”

Marilyn’s Photographers Celebrated in Bendigo

Marilyn photographed by Eve Arnold at the 'East of Eden' premiere (1955)
Marilyn photographed by Eve Arnold at the ‘East of Eden’ premiere (1955)

A new article for the Bendigo Advertiser focuses on the importance of photography in Marilyn’s career, and her work with masters of the art such as Andre de Dienes, Eve Arnold, Cecil Beaton and Richard Avedon, as featured in the Bendigo Art Gallery’s current exhibition, Twentieth Century Fox Presents Marilyn Monroe.

“THE photographic works included in the current exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery provide an intimate insight into Marilyn Monroe and complement the authentic artefacts, clothing and other objects on display that belonged to, or were worn by, Marilyn.

Photographs from her early life are displayed together with works by renowned photographers such as Eve Arnold and Richard Avedon. From deeply personal and important memories of her childhood to aspects of her various persona and professional incarnations, the medium of photography reveals much about this fascinating subject.

Photography was of great importance to Marilyn throughout her life, revealed by her treasuring of such images and later her manipulation of the medium as her career developed.

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Andre de Dienes, 1949

Over the course of just a few years de Dienes captured the transformation from Norma Jeane Dougherty to Marilyn Monroe … Arnold’s photographs show a different side of Marilyn, in that they are unposed and more documentary in style, catching unguarded moments.

Cecil Beaton, 1956
Cecil Beaton, 1956

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Beaton composed a number of distinct sets to create different sittings, all within a suite in New York’s Ambassador Hotel. On display is the image of Monroe widely believed to be her favourite … Avedon created a series showing Marilyn dressed as some of the most celebrated female actors of the twentieth century …”

Marilyn Mania Comes to Bendigo

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Reviews are coming in for Twentieth Century Fox Presents Marilyn Monroe, the new exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery. In an article for the 3Sixty website, Irvin Hanna reveals how Marilyn mania has come to Australia.

“The girl that every woman wants to be best friends with has landed in the quaint city of Bendigo, two hours by train from Melbourne. Banners and stickers promoting the Marilyn Monroe Exhibition can be spotted the moment I arrived at the Bendigo Train Station. Turns out it was only a glimpse of full-blown Marilyn mania all over the city. At the main crossing near Alexandra Fountain is Forever Marilyn, an 8-metre-high sculpture by Seward Johnson. This impressive work of art has been seen in Chicago and Palm Springs in the United States, and is now in Australia for its first international visit.

Strolling along the Bendigo CBD (central business district), it was fun to see how everyone participates in honour of the Hollywood superstar. A picture frame store has images of Marilyn all over the window display, and there was a boutique with knock-off versions of her iconic dresses. Restaurants have altered their menu to include special edition dishes and cocktails, and visitors can select accommodation package offers from several hotels and B&Bs that include tickets and other goodies in conjunction with the exhibition.

This wonderful collaboration by Bendigo Art Gallery and Twentieth Century Fox took about two years to materialise. There are more than 100 items, prints, old photographs, personal clothing, as well as iconic costumes from her movies, showcasing the stages of metamorphosis from girl next door to blonde bombshell. All are on loan from the studio and from private collectors all over the world.

In between the items on exhibit are screens with clippings of Marilyn’s movies and live performances, including a 6-by-9 metre motion picture display, and little television sets from the bygone era. But my favourite section of the whole exhibition has to be the 1960s-style sitting area that was furnished with two beige retro armchairs, an old school wooden cupboard, as well as a projector and screen that show clippings of her old movies. Drawn by such a magnetic presence, I could’ve spent the whole afternoon there watching Marilyn strut her magic on the screen.

For the duration of the exhibition (which runs until 10 July), there are a myriad of events and activities in celebration of Marilyn. The Eaglehawk Town Hall will be hosting movie nights from April till June with some of her classic titles including River of No Return and The Misfits. Those wishing to relive the glam era can check out the grand gala night at Ulumbarra Theatre on 14 May, where there will be a screening of Some Like It Hot. Come in your best 1950s costume, as the ticket includes a post-screening party with entertainment and light food. And if you need more reason to party, the Bendigo Art Gallery Foundation will also be hosting a red carpet fundraiser cocktail event on 4 June, with live music and a silent auction of some of the items in the exhibition.”

When Warhol’s Marilyn Isn’t All It Seems

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As most art lovers will know, Andy Warhol’s Marilyn was created – and endlessly reproduced – after her death in 1962, from a publicity still by Frank Powolny. Despite all outward appearances, however, the image shown above is not a Warhol but a 1965 ‘remake’ by the artist Elaine Sturtevant.  In a new book, Sturtevant: Warhol Marilyn, Patricia Lee examines the concepts of artistic originality, authorship and celebrity (both Marilyn’s, and Warhol’s.)

“There is an almost studious infidelity to the results of Sturtevant’s recreations, even while the processes of their production may be rigorous in the extreme. For her Warhol Flowers, Warhol himself lent her the very screen he had used to print from. In the case of her Warhol Marilyn, the original screen was lost but Sturtevant successfully tracked down the original publicity still that it was made from and took it to Andy’s own silkscreen guy to make the stencil. In later years, when people asked Warhol how he made his silkscreens he would simply answer, ‘Ask Elaine.’

‘Everyone says, So, Andy really understood!‘ Lee quotes Sturtevant in the book, ‘Well I don’t think so. I think he didn’t give a f***. Which is a very big difference, isn’t it?'”

Korea Veteran’s Lunch With Marilyn

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George Burgtorf of Saramac, Michigan, has shared his memories – and photos – of meeting Marilyn as a young sergeant stationed in Korea during her morale-boosting 1954 visit, in an interview with the Ionia Sentinel-Standard.

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“George Burgtorf of Saranac was a 20-year-old sergeant in the United States Army’s 2nd Infantry on a cold day in February 1954 when Marilyn Monroe performed in the Chorwon Valley during the Korean War. He carried with him a small Brownie camera and a pass that granted him access to everywhere, except the top secret code room, that is.

He was nearby when she landed by helicopter at the camp and later he ate lunch with the movie star and dozens of other service men in the mess hall. In the afternoon, he was near the front when she went on stage and performed several songs.

‘She spoke to most of us, she just said, Hi,’ Burgtorf said. ‘She seemed very nice.’

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‘The food was generally very good at the mess hall. She seemed to enjoy herself.’

Burgtorf’s job was taking care of telephone communications for the army. It brought him close to generals, movie stars and future president Gerald Ford.

‘I could get into any building because of the telephone,’ Burgtorf said. ‘The mess hall was really just a tent, and I was the only one with a camera that day.’

He said he saw one or two other USO performances with the 2nd Infantry at the Bulldozer Bowl, but he doesn’t remember who performed other than Monroe, which stands out in his mind.

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‘It was many years ago,’ Burgtorf said. ‘It was very, very cold that day. I think they must have had a heater blowing towards the stage, because she was in some skimpy clothes.’
‘We were right in the valley, there were mountains on both sides of everything.’

Burgtorf said after Monroe performed she quickly got onto a helicopter and went to perform another show.’She was on a very tight schedule,’ he said.”

Reading Marilyn: A Cultural Fetish

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In her review of Reading Women, a new exhibit by multi-media artist Carrie Schneider at the Haggerty Museum in Marquette University, the Milwaukee Record‘s Marielle Allschwang references Eve Arnold’s endlessly analysed portrait of Marilyn reading Ulysses.  (Incidentally, Stefan Bollman’s 2009 book, Women Who Read Are Dangerous – which explores the same subject in art history – will be reissued in April.)

“Last week, I was shown a photograph of Marilyn Monroe reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. She is near the end, seemingly lost in Molly Bloom’s punctuation-less, sensual reverie, immersed in the flows and throes of memory and pleasure that finally submit to sleep. This is the famous soliloquy that transforms ‘no’ into ‘yes.’ It is the chapter of the ‘mountain flower,’ the ‘sea crimson,’ of ‘breasts all perfume yes and his heart going like mad.’ Those familiar with the passage may imagine it as a sort of mirror to Marilyn and the inscrutable world within her mythologized body. Others may find a mesmerizing dissonance. But there are more—many more—photographs of Marilyn Monroe reading. A Google search yields 1,490,000 results. She reads American classics, scripts, plays, magazines, newspapers, and a self-help book called How To Improve Your Thinking Ability.

There is a general thirst to know what and whether Marilyn Monroe read. Articles include, ‘The 430 Books in Marilyn Monroe’s Library: How Many Have You Read?’; ‘Marilyn Monroe’s Books: 13 Titles That Were On Her Shelf’; ‘What Was On Marilyn Monroe’s Reading List?’ They are littered with doubt and objectification: ‘Did she read them all? I don’t know. Have you read every single title on your shelves?’ ‘Nerds everywhere have drooled over photos of her thumbing through books…’

Does Schneider give us the opportunity to witness women creating, like [Susan] Sontag, the texts before them? Are we creating the women as we witness them? And if so, are we not left where we began, projecting what Marilyn is thinking?”