Pop Art Before Warhol: McHale, Hamilton and Marilyn

We’ve already heard about Marilyn’s Scottish ancestry (see here), but as Craig Williams reports for Glasgow Live, local art pioneer John McHale was inspired by Marilyn – while his London-based colleague Richard Hamilton featured her iconic pose from The Seven Year Itch in an early installation, as shown above – long before Andy Warhol made her his muse.

“The Maryhill area of Glasgow can lay claim to a few things of note … But few would ever imagine that it could hold claim to a title many might believe is held by New York – that of being the birthplace of Pop Art. It wasn’t Warhol who could be considered as the true ‘forefather’ of Pop Art, nor indeed did he coin the ubiquitous term we all know today thanks (in the most part) to his work. That belongs to the almost forgotten Scottish artist, art theorist, sociologist and future studies searcher John McHale – a man born and bred in Maryhill.

McHale coined the term ‘Pop Art’ back in 1954 to describe the aesthetic expressed in art in response to the commercialization of Western culture … Yet it was to be the groundbreaking and hugely popular This Is Tomorrow exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1956 that would light the Pop Art touchpaper. The exhibition – which McHale played a central part in – was described by esteemed art critic Reyner Banham as being the ‘first Pop Art manifestation to be seen in any art gallery in the world’. McHale, alongside Richard Hamilton and John Voelcker, presented images from popular culture from magazines, film publicity posters and comics as part of the exhibition.

And as part of the exhibition, McHale was able to provide plenty of the material, having returned from a scholarship at Yale University with a black metal trunk full to the brim with magazine clippings … Yet it wasn’t until 1962 when Pop Art was effectively ‘rubber-stamped’ in the America psyche via the “Symposium on Pop Art” at the Museum of Modern Art in  New York – the same year that a certain Andy Warhol held his first ever solo exhibition in the city … Warhol’s exhibit featured some of his most well-known works, including ‘Marilyn Diptych’ … which repeated Marilyn Monroe’s image to evoke her ubiquitous presence in the media – it’s very possible that Warhol was inspired to produce the work by none other than Maryhill’s own McHale.

That’s because, in a collection of writings concerning popular imagery and fine art called ‘The Expendable Icon’ published in Architectural Design magazine in 1959, McHale referenced Marilyn Monroe in a section entitled ‘The Girl With The Most’. Monroe, who McHale regarded as ‘doubly interesting’ featured among many popular ‘ikons’ he identified alongside Elvis Presley – another of Warhol’s subjects. McHale wrote that the film star was ‘held up as an example of someone not only defined by personal iconography, but whose image is saturated in the media to such an extent that she serves as a model for universal imitation’.

1962 would see McHale emigrate to live in the US for definite … John McHale (Jr.) notes the difference between his father’s work and that of Warhol. Where Warhol was focused on being a celebrity artist, McHale’s agenda was to extend the boundaries of art to the masses according to his son … Incredibly, his father was also asked to explain his Pop Art ideas by Time magazine and be featured on the cover, but ‘regrettably refused for personal family reasons … From my discussions with my father it was apparent that he originally conceived of Pop Art as being more than just some glib advertising and reflection of popular culture … This may not seem radical in the present century, but half a century ago these were fighting words and cutting edge concepts. Pop Art was about opening up aesthetic possibilities and making art freely available to all …'”

Warhol’s Marilyn at Tate Modern

Photo by Matt Durham

A major Andy Warhol retrospective opens at London’s Tate Modern tomorrow, through to September 6, featuring his original Marilyn Diptych from 1962.

“Marilyn Monroe died in August 1962, having overdosed on barbiturates. In the following four months, Warhol made more than twenty silkscreen paintings of her, all based on the same publicity photograph from the 1953 film Niagara. Warhol found in Monroe a fusion of two of his consistent themes: death and the cult of celebrity. By repeating the image, he evokes her ubiquitous presence in the media. The contrast of vivid colour with black and white, and the effect of fading in the right panel are suggestive of the star’s mortality.”

Vaccaro, Rizzo and the Marilyn Connection

Tony Vaccaro began his career in photography while serving in the US Army on the battlefields of Europe during World War II. Aged 97, he is now the subject of an HBO documentary and a new retrospective, Tony Vaccaro: La Dolce Vita, at the Monroe Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s telling that along with Pablo Picasso, Marilyn heads up the impressive list of celebrities he photographed, though she appears not to be featured in the exhibition.

The photo shown above right, taken in Canada during filming of River Of No Return, has been attributed to Vaccaro by the QNS website. (Canadian photographer John Vachon was also present at the shoot, as featured in his book, Marilyn, August 1953: The Lost Look Photos.)

One of Marilyn’s last photo shoots is also mentioned in connection with an ongoing Paris retrospective, Willy Rizzo: Pop! Once again, though, it’s unclear if Marilyn is featured in the exhibit, other than in a 1996 photo taken at the home of supermodel Stephanie Seymour, with Andy Warhol’s iconic portrait adorning the wall.

Warhol’s Marilyn in Chicago

Muralist Jeffrey Zimmerman has recreated Andy Warhol’s portrait of Marilyn outside the Chicago Institute of Art on Michigan Avenue and Erie Street, as part of a retrospective, Andy Warhol – From A to Z and Back Again, on display until January 26, 2020. (It’s an interesting counterpoint to Seward Johnson’s giant sculpture of MM, which made its own debut on the ‘Magnificent Mile’ back in 2011, before finding its forever home in Palm Springs. )

Thanks to Mikael at Marilyn Remembered

When Marilyn Met Marlene

Founded in 1969, Andy Warhol’s Interview was the magazine to be seen in for nearly forty years. Although it ceased publication last year, Interview still has an online presence and earlier this week, a snippet from the past was discovered.

“As a notable admirer of Marilyn Monroe’s, Andy Warhol was sure to get some of the juiciest gossip in his celebrity circle. While he was still Editor-in-Chief of Interview, alongside Paul Morissey and Fred Hughes, he buried a drama bomb of information in the ‘Small Talk’ section of the June 1973 issue involving Marlene Dietrich and M.M herself. However, not one of the contributing editors took credit for the gossip; they instead chose to keep the source anonymous … According to the ‘Small Talk’ column, Dietrich attended a screening of one of Monroe’s earlier films and talked through every one of her scenes, mumbling: ‘So this is what they want now. This is what they call sexy.'”

Marlene Dietrich by Eve Arnold, 1952

Eve Arnold, who photographed Marlene at work in a recording studio for Esquire magazine in 1952, recalled that when she later met Marilyn, the subject of Dietrich came up: “Marilyn asked – with that mixture of naïveté and self-promotion that was uniquely hers – ‘If you could do that well with Marlene, can you imagine what you could do with me?'”

Mariene Dietrich by Milton Greene, 1952

Another photographer who worked with Dietrich was Milton Greene, who later became Marilyn’s business partner. In 1955, he invited Marlene to a New York press conference to announce the formation of their new company, Marilyn Monroe Productions.

Like all stars (Marilyn included), Dietrich was naturally competitive. But although she may have briefly ‘thrown shade’ in Marilyn’s direction – to use a term that didn’t exist back then – there’s no sign of any rancour between them in these photographs.

In 1957, Marilyn was offered the lead role in a remake of The Blue Angel, which had made Marlene a global star many years before. That never came to pass, but a year later, Marilyn would recreate the character in her ‘Fabled Enchantresses’ photo session with Richard Avedon, although out of respect for Dietrich, she later asked the photographer to withdraw the images and they were not made public until long after Marilyn died.

Marilyn poses as Marlene for photographer Richard Avedon, 1958

Marilyn would take a leaf out of Marlene’s playbook again in 1962, asking costumer Jean Louis to recreate the beaded ‘nude’ dress he had made for Dietrich to wear during nightclub performances. Monroe’s version became immortalised that May, when she sang ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ to John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden.

Whatever Marlene’s initial thoughts on Marilyn may have been, she would remember her admiringly, writing in her 1987 memoir: “Marilyn Monroe was an authentic sex symbol, because not only was she ‘sexy’ by nature but she also liked being one – and she showed it.”

‘Divine Marilyn’ at Galerie Joseph

The Divine Marilyn exhibition (first reported here) has now opened at Galerie Joseph at 116 rue Turenne in Paris, through to September 22. You can read a report (in French) on the launch over here. (Photos by Joshua Greene, and Ma Zaz at Marilyn Remembered.)

We begin with Norma Jeane…
Through the starlet years…
And Hollywood stardom…
Marilyn in Korea
A fun feature…
The private Marilyn…
And finally, the icon.
Joshua Greene took some out with Marilyn…
He was joined by Suzie Kennedy, and members of the Shaw family.
And while you’re visiting Divine Marilyn at Galerie Joseph, don’t forget JACKIE!

Warhol’s Marilyn On Memorial Day

Dan’s Papers, a free weekly for residents of the Hamptons, is approaching its sixtieth birthday. A new coffee table book, 60 Summers: Celebrating Six Iconic Decades On the East End, has just been published. You can read the story behind its first glossy cover here.

“Andy Warhol had a home on the ocean in Montauk, east of town, out towards the lighthouse, for many years, about 20 altogether … This painting was one of the many he did in Montauk, it is believed, although his main studio was at Union Square in New York City. He passed away in 1987, and two years later there was a retrospective of his paintings at the Guild Hall in East Hampton, and they managed to arrange for us to have this painting of Marilyn Monroe, which he did back in 1967, featured for this week’s cover.”