It's a wonderful Life
The art and artifice of Marilyn Monroe at the FAC
Life as a Legend: Marilyn Monroe, the newest show at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, proves that Monroe is just as complex a person and a legacy as ever. The enormous collection of photography and artwork, some created before the sex symbol's death in 1962 and some brand-new, is cohesive yet fresh with its single subject.
The show is divided into artwork and photographs of Monroe. The photograph section includes her famous photo shoots with Bert Stern and Douglas Kirkland, as well as candid shots from her rise to and height of pin-up fame.
Comparing photography to paintings and sculpture opens up a floodgate of questions, not only about Monroe, but the nature of icon and celebrity. The person underneath it all is easily dissolved.
Monroe's face is a motif for every artist to make his or her mark. Antonio de Felipe contributed several large, vivid paintings using Monroe as a subject for compositions inspired by the works of late Pop artists Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. "In Hollywood's Garden," a rainbow of sparkling bright hues celebrates Monroe's beauty as a fixture of Pop art.
de Felipe captures the glossy aspects of Monroe's legacy, while across the gallery, artist Christian Blau documents Monroe's chilling downfall. Nearly 6-by-10-feet, the gray "Overexposure" is divided into two frames. On the left is an image of the brunette Norma Jean Baker, appearing young, untouched and nervous. Her gaze lifts up and out toward the next frame, a gritty depiction of Monroe's face on the coroner's table, washed-out and dark.
You feel deeply guilty in viewing the painting. Monroe had so little privacy in her life that she was even photographed dead, and we cannot help but continue to look.
"Overexposure" is painted on a canvas, yet with a special medium and a surface manipulated with sand, it comes to look like a huge concrete wall. Its rough and heavy quality provides the perfect counterpoint to the airy and glowing "In Hollywood's Garden."
The works mentioned above all come from the traveling exhibit; the 15 local artists featured, however, do not disappoint. Each work exemplifies the artist's style and adds a fresh take on Monroe imagery. Scott LeFavor's contribution, "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," is silky version of Monroe done in a highly glossy enamel and acrylic on panel. LeFavor's gray-scale Monroe is geometric and simple, with giant diamonds dangling from her ears. Her hair is an unpainted portion of the panel, revealing wood grain.
Like the rest of Life as a Legend painting, sculpture or photograph it is luscious to look at, yet deeply moving. The super-shiny finish on "Diamonds" and the comically huge diamonds in Monroe's ears are heavily painted and illusory. The panel underneath, while finished itself, halts you, and demands you contemplate how much of Monroe was real, even today.
Hot and heavy
Eros on Canvas and X3: Nice ideas, but ...
When you walk into the Smokebrush Gallery, X3 by Laura BenAmots is a little shocking. The erotica show is incredibly explicit, as promised and expected. BenAmots' canvases share plenty of depictions of intercourse and other sexual exploits, but also random, giant genitalia floating around, often accosted by some other eager body part.
Aside from anatomy, the show offers little depth. There is no larger commentary about the experience of sex or the nature of intimacy. The faces on BenAmots' figures are totally anonymous and look to be going through the motions.
Is anyone actually feeling anything? The only hints you get come in the hokey titles for the works. But "Midnight Raw" and "Again Please" really don't help establish much.
As far as the audience at the X3 opening seemed to be concerned, though, it was a success. BenAmots' exhibition catalogue, Eros on Canvas, was sold at the show, and dozens of viewers carried a copy out. Several groups loitered in the galleries, totally unfazed by the works. But for every Eros fan, there was another viewer wincing and squinting at the purple and blue penises.
Many at the opening said that Colorado Springs needed something like this. At this, I agree. A touch of mystery, however, would have made the show far more successful.