Halsman’s Marilyn at the Smithsonian

sso

Philippe Halsman’s most iconic photo of Marilyn – chosen for her first Life magazine cover in 1952 – has won a Smithsonian Magazine readers’ poll, and will be displayed in the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, from January-March 2016.

“A portrait of Marilyn Monroe will be installed in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s ‘Recognize’ space, Jan. 22, 2016. The museum’s historians and curators selected three actresses’ portraits for voters to choose from—Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe and Mae West—three fan favorites who, despite long acting careers, never received Oscar nominations.

Thousands of votes were cast on Smithsonianmag.com, and Monroe’s portrait received the most votes. Philippe Halsman’s photograph of her will be on view on the ‘Recognize’ wall, near the north entrance of the museum, through March 6, 2016.

Last year, the Portrait Gallery created ‘Recognize’ as an opportunity for people to select what they would like to see on display. Twice a year, the museum presents three portraits, and the public votes for their favorite. In the last round of ‘Recognize,’ voters elected to display a portrait of the baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente by Charles ‘Teenie’ Harris.”

Marilyn’s Still Top of the Polls

Great Americans: Marilyn holding her lithograph of Abraham Lincoln. Photo by Milton Greene, 1954
Great Americans: Marilyn holding her lithograph of Abraham Lincoln. Photo by Milton Greene, 1954

While Marilyn is regularly cited in lists of the world’s greatest sex symbols, her historical and cultural impact is sometimes overlooked. Not so this week, as The Smithsonian magazine includes her in a special dedicated to the 100 Most Significant Americans, alongside Madonna, Bette Davis, Mary Pickford and Oprah Winfrey (on newsstands today for $9.99); meanwhile, the Daily Mail reports that she is ranked 17th in a Sky Arts poll of 40 Women Who Changed the World.

De Kooning’s Marilyn at the Smithsonian

kooning mm

Eight years before Andy Warhol, the Dutch-born American painter, Willem de Kooning was perhaps the first great artist to immortalise Marilyn. His 1954 expressionist work is featured in a new exhibition, Face Value: Portraiture In the Age of Abstraction, opening at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC tomorrow (April 15) through to next January, reports the Times Colonist.

During the summer of 1957, De Kooning was a neighbour of Marilyn and Arthur Miller in Amagansett, New York. “Totally abstract, Marilyn looks like a cross between a grinning child and a screaming fury, not like the soft and gentle Marilyn,” Lois Banner wrote in Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox (2012.) “Yet he captured part of her essence – childlike, but angry when crossed. The portrait was hung in the Museum of Modern Art, and it produced a stir. Arthur detested it, but Marilyn didn’t mind: she thought artists had the right to their own vision of the subject they painted. It led to the many pop art portraits of her.”

Stars for Sale: Marilyn’s ‘Magic’ Touch

 The Smithsonian magazine has reported the findings of a new scientific survey, investigating why the personal property of celebrities is so highly coveted.

“Their new study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesshowed that people at memorabilia auctions were willing to pay much more for items owned by John F. Kennedy or Marilyn Monroe if they thought the beloved celebrities had touched them, but preferred to pay less than the object’s value for items owned by widely disliked individuals (such as Bernie Madoff) if they imagined he’d come into contact with them.

It’s almost as if, the psychologists argue, these buyers believe in some sort of inexplicable mechanism that carries JFK’s and Monroe’s magnificent qualities—as well as Madoff’s reprehensible ones—into these objects simply through touch. Their word for this nonsensical belief that’s as inaccurate as the long-outdated miasma theory of disease? Contagion.

‘Contagion is a form of magical thinking in which people believe that a person’s immaterial qualities or essence can be transferred to an object through physical contact,’ they write. Their findings, they add, ‘suggest that magical thinking may still have effects in contemporary Western societies.’

They carried out the study by looking at data sets of the prices fetched at auction by 1,297 JFK-related, 288 Monroe-related and 489 Madoff-related items—including furniture, jewelry, books and tableware—in recent years. Auction houses generally don’t specify (or know) if an item was actually touched by its owner, so the researchers asked three study participants (who were blind to their hypothesis) to rate how much contact they perceived each of the items would have had with their owners on a scale of one to eight.

The idea is that buyers would likely make a similar judgment on the likelihood of contact: a wall decoration, for instance, would be less likely to have been touched by JFK, whereas a fork would probably have been handled by him frequently.

In addition to the real-world auction data, Newman and Bloom conducted an intriguing experiment that supports their argument about the role of physical contact in the price discrepancies. They gathered 435 volunteers and asked them how much they’d bid on a hypothetical sweater, telling some it had belonged to a famous person they admired, and others that it had been a celebrity they despised.

But they also told some of the participants that the sweater had been transformed in one of three ways: It’d been professionally sterilized (thereby, in theory, destroying the ‘essence’ that the celebrity had left on it but not destroying the actual object), it’d been moved to the auction house (which, theoretically, could contaminate this ‘essence’ with the touch of mere goods handlers) or it came with a condition that it could never be sold again (which would eliminate the monetary value from the participants’ estimation of its worth, isolating their valuation of the sweater itself).

Compared to untransformed sweaters, the participants were willing to pay 14.5 percent less for a beloved celebrity’s sweater (say, Marilyn Monroe’s) that had been sterilized, but just 8.9 percent less for one they couldn’t resell—indicating that they valued whatever ‘essence’ the celebrity had passed on to the sweater by touching it more than its actual monetary value, and that this ‘essence’ could be destroyed by sterilization. The sweater simply being handled by others in transit, however, barely affected their valuation: It seems that celebrity contact can’t be so easily wiped away.”

Inside the Hollywood Jewellery Box

Sadie Mintz is the 105 year-old founder of the Hollywood Jewellery Box, and designer of the earrings worn by Marilyn in Some Like it Hot, reports Emily Smithack for the Smithsonian blog.

“On one occasion in the 1950s, I rented several pairs of the same rhinestone earrings. Evidently they were worn by Marilyn Monroe and several other cast members in Some Like It Hot. My husband and I made the earrings. We were supposed to make them with a lot of rhinestones, very noticeable. These earrings were the very same that Marilyn Monroe had on in the famous LIFE magazine photograph of her, which I always kept framed on the wall.

Years later, I sold my inventory back to the studios. I kept some things for the grandkids – I had three granddaughters, and they used to love to come play in the drawers. But I did keep those rhinestone earrings. I tried to have them sold by Christie’s or Butterfield’s – I don’t remember which auction house. They agreed it was the same design, but I had no proof that these were the very same earrings worn by the stars, so they could not ‘authenticate’ them. I wonder what more information they needed since I was already in my mid-nineties and remembered everything! My eldest granddaughter even got me a clip of the video showing the earrings. These were indeed the same earrings. I ended up having them sold at auction by the Screen Actors Guild, which was more lax on the authenticity rules.”

Marilyn at the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian Museum of American National History seems like the logical place for a permanent display about Marilyn, one of the most famous American women of all time.

Unfortunately, the museum currently holds just one item of Marilyn’s property – a pair of white gloves. Curator Dwight Bowers hopes to acquire more for a forthcoming exhibit on popular culture, according to AFP.

Let’s hope more private collectors decide to donate and share their treasures with the public. In the meantime, ‘MM: The Exhibit’ (featuring the collections of Greg Schreiner and Scott Fortner) is on display at the Hollywood Museum until September 2.

“Donated by a private collector, the gloves make up the entire Marilyn Monroe collection at the publicly-funded Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest network of museums and, in principle, repository of all things Americana.

Bowers, who plans to include the gloves in an forthcoming Smithsonian exhibition on American popular culture, said it’s ‘logical’ for the museum to hold more Monroe memorabilia.

‘But Hollywood material and Hollywood celebrities are big business in the auction world,’ he told AFP in the windowless storeroom that’s packed floor to ceiling with show-business artifacts from vaudeville to today.

‘Private collectors are part of our competition — and private collectors have a much bigger budget than we have.’

‘A lot of these high-profile pieces, when they come up for auction, are going to the Asian countries,’ Los Angeles collector Scott Fortner, whose own Monroe objects are part of the Hollywood Museum exhibition, told AFP.

‘I find it disappointing that some of these pieces literally just disappear and we have no idea where they go,’ added Fortner, who has catalogued his entire collection — from a feather boa to make-up and eye drops — online.”

A Pair of White Gloves

In an article marking the 49th anniversary of Marilyn’s death, The Smithsonian reflects on her trademark white gloves (one of the many pairs she owned is now held at Washington’s American History Museum.)

“They connoted a degree of style to the public, and they were as equally important as the gowns she wore. They completed the outfit,” curator Dwight Blocker Bowers says.

“Monroe was often spotted wearing this ladylike accoutrement,” wrote curator David H. Shayt in Smithsonian magazine in 2002. “Suggestive contradiction was the name of the game. Monroe’s gloves, invoking a coquettish nod to modesty, were belied by the plunging neckline.”