Exhibition Review: Marilyn Monroe
By Brigid Kapuvari
When someone says the phrase “sex symbol,” who is the first celebrity that comes to mind? Who was the controversial young woman who drove the nation crazy because she embraced and flaunted her sexuality? Who was the woman who shone as bright as diamonds – better labeled as, “a girl’s best friend”? The answer is obvious, and despite it being more than fifty years since her passing, she continues to be a renowned Hollywood figure. Ladies and gentlemen, the beautiful, the lovely, the unforgettable: Marilyn Monroe.
Birth name Norma Jeane Mortenson, Marilyn Monroe was born on June 1st, 1926 in Los Angeles, California. While Monroe allotted herself a place in the spotlight as an adult, her origins were far less glamorous. Her mother and maternal grandparents were committed to mental institutions, forcing her to migrate through a string of foster homes – twelve, in total. At 16-years old, she wed her first husband, James Dougherty, but they ultimately divorced following World War II.
Evidently, Monroe did not come from riches. Nonetheless, one day, her circumstances changed. Working at a munitions factory, Monroe was discovered by William Carol, a photographer, who recognized her photogenic spirit. As one of the most iconic looking women, Carol took her in, and thus her modeling career gained momentum. Moreover, she signed a contract with 20th Century Fox, which enabled her to expand her reach across a vast audience. Soon enough, she became the name on everyone’s lips.
Although a female icon of the modern era, Marilyn Monroe was, at the end of the day, human. She transitioned over a span of seventeen years. Should she have lived to today, she would have been 92-years old. To commemorate the life of this transcendent individual, Jeff Jaffe, the owner of Pop International Galleries, organized an exhibition, featuring a diverse collection of photographs of Monroe that reflect not only her career but also her evolution.
The show, irrevocably, is a treasure. Consisting of images from both famous and obscure photographers, including Milton Greene, Laslow Willinger, Kashio Aoiko, Bert Stern, George Barris and Larry Schiller, the collection bestows upon the viewer a fuller understanding of Monroe. Furthermore, it is exhilarating to speculate how these photographers perceived Monroe and conveyed her character. For instance, in 1945, William Carrol aimed to depict Marilyn as cute and pure. In every single picture, she seems absolutely euphoric. She’s not so much posing as having plain old fun. Gazing at the sky, drawing into the sand on a beach, smiling with her gleamingly white teeth on display - this is a girl who’s innocent and unknowing of the churning success that’s about to unfold.
In 1949, Laslow Willinger strove to emphasize her star-like quality. Via a series of black and white photos, he showed that Monroe was confident and on the incline as well as soft and animated. As she looks towards the camera, she insinuates that she will enter fame with her head held high and will maintain her youthful lure. In 1954, as she travels with Joe DiMaggio on a plane, Kashio Aoki snaps a couple of candid images of Monroe: she still embodies grace, but it is tempered down a bit. Her subdued smile reveals that she is more ordinary than the public expects.
In 1962, George Barris and Bert Stern reinforce the idea that Monroe offers a whole other definition to the word “temptress.” She is beyond just sensual. Whether Monroe is clothed or hiding or nude, she always gives off an air that she’s cognizant of her effect and relishes in it. She is inviting, utterly suggestive with her half-closed eyes and pursed lips. However, at the same time, she doesn’t dangle her sexuality like a ripe apple to be picked; she wears it with a regal maturity, proving that she is not a mere object. She is an influencer.
“It is more than rags to riches,” said Jeff Jaffe when inquired about the story of Marilyn Monroe. “It’s more than obscurity to absolute fame.”
She is a remarkable figure for reasons that surpass the fact that she emerged from nothing. She was special and captivated all who were blessed with her presence. She was unapologetic about whom she was, and even though her story ends in tragedy, that conclusion is not what made her immortal.
To fans (and even non-fans) of Marilyn Monroe, come see the show if you can. The photographs present the ideal opportunity to behold an incredible life – to witness Marilyn Monroe fleshed out as more than a poster girl or a sex symbol but as a human being who flourished.
The Marilyn Monroe Exhibit will continue at Pop International Galleries until July 10th.