Andy Warhol Museum honors Hollywood icon

The fourth floor of the exhibit features art by artists other than Warhol, like this piece titled “DD and MM” by Wolfgang Loesche, a German artist. (credit: Wolfgang Loesche, DD and MM, 2003, © Wolfgang Loesche) The fourth floor of the exhibit features art by artists other than Warhol, like this piece titled “DD and MM” by Wolfgang Loesche, a German artist. (credit: Wolfgang Loesche, DD and MM, 2003, © Wolfgang Loesche)

Throughout the years, Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum, located by the riverfront in East Allegheny, has dazzled visitors with a vast array of year-round and traveling exhibits. Last month, the museum proudly debuted its newest addition dedicated to the blonde bombshell and sex sensation Marilyn Monroe.

The Marilyn Monroe: Life as a Legend exhibit, located on the fourth and seventh floors of the Andy Warhol Museum, features a collection of Monroe prints created by Warhol himself, some of the most famous publicity pictures and magazine covers featuring Monroe throughout the years, and a collection of Monroe interpretations created by other artists.

In the main gallery on the seventh floor, visitors are immersed in Monroe culture. The first biographical info panel describes Monroe as being transformed from a “naive and shy” girl to a “sparkling and vivacious” superstar. This evolution is apparent as visitors journey through two floors of mixed media documenting the life of one of Hollywood’s household names.

From more risqué photographs, such photographer Tom Kelly’s glossy nudes entitled “Marilyn Monroe’s Poses #1-4”, to classy advertisement campaigns, including Ed Feingersh’s “Marilyn Monroe and Chanel #5” taken in 1953, museum guests are given a glimpse into every decade of Monroe’s life and fame. Among the unfamiliar photos, there are several recognizable shots including, for example, a screen shot from The Seven Year Itch, where Monroe is standing over a subway grate when a train passes by and the wind blows up her white dress.

Throughout her life, Monroe was repeatedly described as a sex symbol. Though she had conservative photos taken for her acting and singing careers, she also dabbled in the provocative and lustful pin-up shots that drove men wild. Douglas Kirkland’s series, titled One Night with Marilyn, features her wearing nothing but a bedsheet.

The gallery isn’t just all about photography, either; over the loudspeakers throughout the seventh floor, guests can hear Monroe belt the lyrics to some of her hit songs, including a recording from her 1953 performance of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” which was featured in the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Visitors can also hear Monroe’s famous rendition of “Happy Birthday, Mr. President,” sung in 1962 to President John F. Kennedy.

On the walls throughout the gallery, some of Monroe’s most famous quotes are painted in bright red. Over a series of photos taken of Monroe in the earlier years before her iconic fame, the wall reads, “Real beauty and femininity are ageless and can’t be contrived. Glamour can be manufactured.” In glass display boxes throughout the gallery, visitors can see Monroe on the cover of various magazines like Glamour and Life, as well as the front pages of several newspapers. Gossip articles look into the icon’s music and movie careers and her various affairs and romances. One newspaper even claims in its headline to have “Photos From Her Last Day of Life.”

Perhaps even more fascinating than the story of Monroe’s iconic life is Warhol’s assumed obsession with the deceased celebrity. In the side gallery on the seventh floor, Warhol’s fascination comes to life. Growing up in the golden age of Hollywood, Warhol was always fascinated by fame, and he began collecting autographed photos of his favorite actresses and actors while still in elementary school. The descriptive panels in the gallery tell visitors how Warhol eventually amassed thousands of magazines and publicity photos devoted to his favorite celebrity subjects. In the gallery, Warhol’s collection of photographs of Monroe tiles the walls. Though he had collected over 120 photographs of the icon before her death, it wasn’t until her suicide in 1962 that Warhol chose to feature Monroe in his work.

Amid the walls of photographs hangs Andy Warhol’s 1967 “Marilyn Prints”, a series of 10 large, brightly colored portraits based off of a publicity photograph of the actress taken by Gene Korman for the film Niagara. While Warhol never painted the actress before her death, these portraits were featured in the artist’s first solo exhibition at the Stable Gallery in New York City during November 1962.

In the center of the seventh-floor gallery, behind a glass case, is a booklet of 38 elongated octagons. Each of the pages features a detailed look at the drafts of the “Marilyn Prints”. In the next room, are two gigantic paintings by Antonio de Felipe. One is directly inspired by Roy Lichtenstein’s comic book-like pop art style, while the other places Monroe atop a backdrop of tropically-colored flowers.

In her time, Monroe captivated the public with her beauty and grace. This exhibit allows visitors to return to the ’50s and watch as the young starlet transforms herself from a shy, small-town girl into a household name.