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Marilyn Monroe Comes to the McMichael

The gallery curates its own Marilyn in Canada exhibit, plus the internationally acclaimed touring exhibition, Life as a Legend, makes its final stop of a successful tour at the McMichael!


November 23, 2010 Kleinburg, ON — In February 2011, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection will bring its visitors an unexpected and thought-provoking array of exhibitions, featuring contemporary art and pop culture with two exhibitions of works based on the woman who personified Hollywood glamour in the twentieth century: Marilyn Monroe. Life as a Legend: Marilyn Monroe (curated by Artoma, Hamburg, Germany and is toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC) and Marilyn in Canada (curated by McMichael Assistant Curator, Chris Finn, and organized by the McMichael Canadian Art Collection) will both be on display February 19 to May 15, 2011 at the Kleinburg gallery. A weekend of programs to celebrate the opening of the shows will take place Family Day long weekend, February 19 to 21, 2011.

These exhibitions capture the making of a celebrity and the myth behind the woman the world knew as Marilyn Monroe. Nearly five decades after her death, Monroe remains undisputedly one of the most famous movie stars in the world. Her intriguing personality and the aura surrounding her tragic death continuously attracted many artists, who responded more acutely to the creation of a legend.

The internationally acclaimed touring exhibition, Life as a Legend: Marilyn Monroe, makes its final stop of a successful tour at the McMichael. The exhibition explores the incredibly diverse array of artistic responses to Marilyn’s image. An impressive grouping of paintings, photographs, and prints by world-renowned artists such as Andy Warhol, Robert Indiana, and Eduardo Paolozzi, along with unforgettable snapshots by the most famous photographers of the day such as Richard Avedon, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Bernard of Hollywood make this exhibition a true revelation for Monroe’s fans.

Curated especially for the McMichael, Marilyn in Canada provides an intriguing glimpse into Marilyn’s experiences while filming in Canada as well as her popularity among Canadian artists. Works by artists such as Shelley Niro, John Vachon, and George S. Zimbel are some of the highlights of this unique Canadian-content based exhibition. Both shows demonstrate the broad range of artists who responded creatively to Marilyn’s life – from a constellation of great fashion photographers of her day to the champions of the Pop Art movement in North America to well known artists in Canadian contemporary art.

Monroe’s popularity has not waned even half a century after her death and her mystique is an inspiration in many genres as currently several projects are in the works, or have just recently been released, which feature the iconic actress. Two feature films are in production: My Week with Marilyn starring Oscar® nominated actress Michelle Williams (2011 scheduled release date) and Blonde, starring another Oscar® nominated actress, Naomi Watts (2012 scheduled release date). A collection of writings by the Hollywood icon was released in October 2010, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The book, entitled Fragments, includes poems, letters, and other writings dating from Monroe’s teenage years to shortly before her death. In October 2008, the twenty-fifth anniversary issue of Vanity Fair featured Monroe on its cover and, once again, this month the actress graced its cover to promote the magazine’s worldwide exclusive feature article, “Marilyn and Her Monsters”.

ABOUT THE EXHIBITIONS

Life as a Legend: Marilyn Monroe

Born in Los Angeles, California in 1926, Norma Jeane Mortenson was baptized with her mother’s maiden name as Norma Jeane Baker. Like many girls who flocked to Hollywood with aspirations of becoming an actress, Norma Jeane visited the studio of Bruno Bernard (known as Bernard of Hollywood), asking him to make her look sexy. She was discovered during a government photo shoot at a munitions factory, and Bernard is credited with introducing Norma Jeane to Johnny Hyde, the agent who helped her sign her first contract with Twentieth Century Fox. By the age of twenty, as she began her career in movies, she was renamed and recreated by the Hollywood studio as Marilyn Monroe.

The exhibition Life as a Legend: Marilyn Monroe contains a selection of approximately 150 works by artists Andy Warhol, Allen Jones, Robert Indiana, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Douglas Kirkland and many others. Having travelled in six countries in Europe prior to its American, and now Canadian tour, the exhibition’s primary appeal offers engaging interpretations of Marilyn, ranging from playful and intimate portraits to others that are bold, decorative, and even transformative. The subject of the artists’ work is nothing less than one of the most celebrated popular icons in history. With their images they capture the determination, innocence and vulnerability of Norma Jeane Baker, as well as the vibrant personality, femininity and sensuality that became Marilyn Monroe. The exhibition demonstrates that the longevity of her popularity stems, in part, from both the lessons (and myths) of her life and death as well as from the symbolic powers of her visual image.

The show challenges us to understand how and why these images have become part of our culture. Obviously beautiful, Marilyn was just one of many beautiful people in Hollywood. Perhaps the reason she remained so captivating was her life story: Monroe’s loveless childhood, her rise to stardom and equally spectacular slide, her unhappy affairs and early death formed a necessary counterweight to the glamorous visuals. To most commentators, Monroe is a bundle of paradoxes. She’s sexual but innocent, that womanly body vying with that little-girl voice. She’s vulnerable but also driven and calculating in her pursuit of star status. Photographer Milton H. Greene, a glamour photographer who worked for Life, Look and Vogue and later became Monroe’s business partner, catches some of these contradictions in the so-called “Ballerina Sittings.”

The camera couldn’t get enough of Monroe. She was possibly the most photographed individual of the twentieth century. But her needfor the camera was just as insatiable. That Marilyn Monroe is a carefully crafted persona as well as a legend is one of the show’s main themes – she herself said, “I’m an artificial product.” More than Monroe’s beauty and mystery is her story, emblematic of commodifying the individual. This is the interpretation in artist Andy Warhol’s famous, colourful images. He loved her whole essence, but wanted to show to the world, “Look, this is what we did to her.”

As Marilyn develops as a mature actress, she can be observed both behind the scenes and in the spotlight of high society, film and theatre. The most intimate and lasting images of Marilyn are taken in photograph sessions in the final months of her life. In her final magazine interview in 1962, she tells a reporter, “Please don’t make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe. I don’t mind making jokes, but I don’t want to look like one… I want to be an artist, an actress with integrity.”

Whether visitors to the exhibition lived during Marilyn’s lifetime or developed a fascination with her following her death, this exhibition offers an insight into the life of a woman who is firmly entrenched in North American and worldwide culture.

Marilyn in Canada

Marilyn Monroe’s iconic presence has been embraced by many cultures beyond her American birthplace. Her public image has served as a multifaceted symbolic muse representing a range of assigned roles and values providing inspiration for works created by a variety of artists who offer their ‘remembrances’ expressed through many artistic forms.

As an introductory and complementary component for the larger travelling show, Marilyn in Canada provides a Canadian connection to remembering and re-visioning this cultural figure. This exhibition includes works by John Vachon, George S. Zimbel and Shelley Niro.

George Zimbel, an American photographer who immigrated to Canada in 1971, participated in the original photo session with Marilyn Monroe that was staged in 1954 during the filming of The Seven Year Itch. Images from this filmed session have, through continuing appearance in reproductions, bolstered the iconic status of the actress while also inspiring artists to reinterpret this particular moment in popular culture history. 

Canadian First Nations artist, Shelley Niro, has restaged her own version of this famous scene. Dressed in white with a fan blowing beneath her dress, the artist reveals the artifice behind the original pose. Her portrait as ‘Marilyn’ accompanied by images of family members emphasizes ideas of feminine beauty and notions of fame that have been embedded in media portrayals.

Marilyn in Canada features photographs, paintings, sculpture, and prints by artists who have inscribed Monroe’s public image with their own culturally-filtered interpretations which also serve as commentary on the influence of American popular culture in Canada.

 

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For further information or images, contact:

Michelle Kortinen, Communications Coordinator
McMichael Canadian Art Collection
905.893.1121 ext. 2210
mkortinen@mcmichael.com

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