She is one of the great icons of our time, celebrated for her beauty, powerful appeal, vulnerability, and her tragically young death. Marilyn Monroe: Life as a Legend, coming to The Winnipeg Art Gallery from March 28 to June 7, captures the celebrity and the myth behind one of the most famous women of the 20th century in an exhibition of over 175 works of art, documenting her life and image. For decades, artists have been captivated by her, and they continue to respond as evidenced by the paintings, photographs, prints, and sculptures featured in this international exhibition.
Reviewing the show for Canada’s National Post, Nancy Tounsley writes: “It’s amazing, really, but there it is: Marilyn Monroe’s dazzling star power has never diminished. It has only grown brighter and taken on the additional brilliance of myth. . . The transformation of Monroe’s image by herself and others, spanning nearly five decades, is as intriguing as the iconic image itself.” Art dealer Rob Mabee is quoted in a Globe and Mail review of the show: “Movie stars have come and gone, but she has endured as a muse for so many artists.”
The show’s photographic works range from the candid shots of a young Norma Jeane Baker to Marilyn Monroe, the Hollywood film star and international sensation. The list of photographers includes the finest of the day: Richard Avedon, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bert Stern, Eve Arnold, Bernard of Hollywood, and Douglas Kirkland. An impressive group of paintings, sculptures, and prints carries the names of artists from around the globe, not surprisingly with an intensity in the Pop Art years. Well-known pieces by Andy Warhol, Robert Indiana, Richard Lindner, and Eduardo Paolozzi are followed by works by Christo, Christian Blau, Erwin Wurm, Mel Ramos, and several other contemporary artists. Particularly abundant is the representation of European artists in the selection. Countless artists have been seduced by the allure of this beautiful woman, so visible, so accessible, and, ultimately, so unknowable. Her tragic death at the age of 36 only enhanced her mythic status.
This exhibition explores the incredibly diverse array of artistic responses to the Marilyn persona. Captured in these works, spanning the last five decades, is the spark, allure, and sensation that is signature Marilyn Monroe. “Life as a Legend brings together a remarkable group of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other media from several important European private collections,” says WAG Director Dr. Stephen Borys, “and we are excited about securing the final spot on a successful North American tour.” “What is perhaps most striking about the show is the range of artists who have responded to Marilyn’s life – from the greatest fashion photographers of her day to the champion of the Pop Art movement.”
Almost 50 years after her death, Marilyn Monroe still exerts an almost mesmerizing fascination over so many people. “Through this diverse group of artworks, augmented by a dynamic program of talks, tours, and other events, visitors will have the opportunity explore Marilyn’s life and the legend that has developed since her death in 1962,” says WAG Chief Curator Helen Delacretaz.
The highlight of the exhibition programming is the award-winning one-woman play, Marilyn: Forever Blonde, which will be presented in the WAG’s Muriel Richardson Auditorium. Painstakingly researched from hundreds of quotes from Marilyn herself, the lavish production is a recreation of what might have been Marilyn’s last chance to tell her own story in her own words. The San Francisco Online Daily News calls it “one of the greatest performances of the modern stage” and L.A. Weekly says “Sunny Thompson plays a pitch-perfect Monroe. . . a beautiful singer with exceptional comic timing.” The legendary Mr. Blackwell of Hollywood wrote after seeing the play: “I was constantly mesmerized by Sunny . . . a masterpiece!” The play will run from March 27 to April 13. Tickets will include admission to the exhibition.
This exhibition will also be the theme for The Gallery Ball, the WAG’s premier fundraising event scheduled for Saturday, March 21. Formerly known as Arty Gras, the black-tie gala returns to the WAG for the first time in many years. “We happen to have one of the most spectacular venues in Winnipeg where we can surround our guests with great art and music. No one throws a gala like the WAG and this year’s Platinum theme in honour of Marilyn Monroe is one not to miss,” says Borys.