On the 15th of July 2011, an impressive statue was unveiled in Chicago: with her white dress twirling around her, an 8-metre (26 foot) high Marilyn Monroe greets passers-by with an alluring smile. Half a century after her death, admiration for one of the film world’s greatest hasn’t waned.
Marilyn is a myth of femininity, a femininity displayed through curves (the actress was a size 12, far bigger than today’s size 4 models), sensuality and mischievous glances. By installing this giant statue in the streets of the city for a year, Chicago pays tribute to a woman who left her mark on the world of cinema.
Created by the sculptor Seward Johnson and entitled “Forever Marilyn”, the statue reveals to surprised onlookers the actress’ legs… all the way up to her lace underwear. Naturally, cameras don’t stop clicking around this piece of art which imitates the pose that made the actress famous in 1955’s The Seven Year Itch.
From the 24th of May to the 25th of September 2011, the Jeu de Paume museum is organising a retrospective dedicated to Claude Cahun, a writer, artist and photographer from the first half of the 20th century who was one of the first people to consider the issues of gender.
Claude Cahun, née Lucy Schwob (1894-1954), was therefore one of the first artists to appreciate the mixture of femininity and masculinity that characterises each human being. She depicted this discovery in her self-portraits, which were extremely daring for the time, where she sometimes made herself up as a woman and sometimes as a man, going as far as to shave her head to perfect the look. She wanted to portray a « third gender », at the boundary between androgyny and bisexuality, as shown by this quote from the artist which is displayed at the entrance to the exhibition: « Confuse people. Masculine? Feminine? But that depends on the case. Neutral is the only gender which always suits me. »
Page 134 of « Manet, A Rebel in Frock » Hazan (1996) Beth Archer Brombert regarding the table of 1863 Edouard Manet Olympia : « For centuries, men have presented the female body in ways that neutralize shameful male reactions and, in addition, « reduced women to a visual objective » (note: Margaret R. Miles, Visual understanding in Western Christianity and Secular Culture, Boston, 1985).
The woman could embody the amoral pagan world (Venus), the origin of sin (Eve) or, more subtly, a possible redemption (Mary). A naked goddess could be as raunchy as a pornographic photograph as she has a mythological name and she looks away from the viewer. But a real woman painted without garments can only be a prostitute, because no respectable woman would have posed like that. Such nakedness becomes an offense to public morality, despite the frequency of contacts that such women had with male viewers who declared themselves outraged at the nude Victorine painted by Manet. Hypocrisy went even further: when Manet painted their contemporary masters of the demi-monde in Diane or naiads, nobody protested, because recognizing the model was a way to blame yourself. «
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