Multiple Thumbs Down for Chicago’s Giant Marilyn Monroe Sculpture

As the legendary actresses gams rise up above Pioneer Court in downtown Chicago, the 26-foot-tall sculpture is greeted with yawns and criticism. But if J. Seward Johnson isn’t a good artist, per se, he’s an interesting one.

Chicago Marilyn Monroe Sculpture J. Seward Johnson


There aren’t a lot of fans of the enormous Marilyn Monroe sculpture next to Tribune Tower.

Mary Schmich:

So what that men were standing dwarfed between the giant legs of the fake Marilyn, shooting photos of her crotch while one stuck out his tongue to mime a lick? So what if there were guys leering at her underpants and her exposed backside? Hey. Whatever makes people happy.

Abraham Ritchie:

It’s creepy schlock from a fifth-rate sculptor that blights a first-rate public art collection.

Lee Bey:

Forever Marilyn, by dint of its size, shows us everything and somehow says almost nothing. And as a bonus, the sculpture even manages to unsexy the scene and the actress.

Melissa McEwan:

She is a a giant, silent avatar of non-consent, posed forever to be a sexual object for the pleasure of passers-by.

Only Lynn Becker found something moderately interesting about it:

To me, what’s most interesting is how the supersized human figure of Marilyn Monroe, a constant curving presence seemingly without a single right angle, plays out against the relentlessly rectilinear Miesian skyscrapers that compose her backdrop.

Then again, a gum wrapper is more sensual than Miesian skyscrapers.

Since it’s impossible for me to avoid—as are the throngs taking pictures of it—I figure I have to live with it as much as anyone else in Chicago, save for the friend of one commenter who “works in the lobby of the building behind Marilyn (the Equitable Building). She spends seven hours a day, now, looking at Marilyn’s underwear and watching people take ‘upskirt’ shots of her.”

And I don’t find it creepy so much as kitschy: like an object from the Planet Hollywood going-out-of-business sale or the Lillian Vernon Catalog for the Very, Very Wealthy.

Which the artist, J. Seward Johnson, Jr. is: an heir to the vast Johnson & Johnson fortune.

Johnson is an odd duck: a spectacularly rich former washout who found a calling doing sculpture, and who has devoted a vast chunk of his fortune to perfecting the process of imitating real life in sculptural form:

The 50,000-square-foot Johnson Atelier here is considered the finest place in America to cast bronze. The nonprofit atelier employs 100 people, some of them apprentices in training. Its foundry employs the ancient, complex lost wax process of casting, which picks up the finest details of the work. The center also contains painting and drying rooms, and even a computer-guided laser that can create three-dimensional works from two-dimensional drawings. George Segal and Marisol are among sculptors who have cast works at the Atelier.


Johnson’s process is so fine that it can catch the pattern of a herringbone jacket and the cracks from an old briefcase. After casting, Mr. Johnson’s assistants color the figures with a polychrome patina of paints developed by chemists just for the atelier. It is no wonder that it costs $46,000 to complete an original figure.

In that sense, there’s something almost poignant about Johnson’s artistic career—a scion of American industry pouring his immense resources into the complex, expensive process of producing simulacra of “ordinary people doing ordinary things"—captured in a statement on his web page:

My art is an imitation of life. [The sculptures] do many things; they can warm up . . . a park or public space and they invite people to come into that space, so that they don’t feel quite alone. They also make good neighbors—they don’t make a lot of noise.

Marilyn Monroe in The Seven-Year Itch was hardly an ordinary person doing an ordinary thing, but it feels like an extension of his life-size, painstakingly realist regular people, this time about their touchstones rather than themselves—with Monroe done not in physical scale, but in social scale.


Photograph: Chicago Tribune



3 years ago
Posted by MrJM

If doing sculpture is he calling, he shouldn't have answered.

-- MrJM

3 years ago
Posted by SaraC

Tell you what, we'll trade you the blue mustang with red glowing eyes outside of the Denver airport for Marilyn..

3 years ago
Posted by fredsmith12345

"Only Lynn Becker ...". What do you mean by "Only"? I never heard of Whet, Abraham, Lee, or Melissa (Mary, yes). This is definitive? 5 vs. 1? It's 1 (for) vs 0 (against) in my cube.

3 years ago
Posted by mightymouth

This statue seems to have ignited a strange form of peeping tomism.

She isn't going commando and anatomically correct is she? I don't know the answer to my own question but I hope she isn't? So what's the point of looking up her skirt? I mean how infantile is the average man?

3 years ago
Posted by CityThatBlows

Ah so what, it's just a giant statue of MM!? It's not real! I have seen men and women both looking under the skirt. But again, it's NOT REAL! Everyone needs to take a freakin' chill pill and relax! Don't we have more important things to worry about????

Thing is, this has gained more press than almost anything else in Chicago the last few days.

3 years ago
Posted by sheadp

People in Chicago are way too conservative. Come on! It's just underwear. It's not like there's a cameltoe or something.

3 years ago
Posted by maternatura

It doesn't matter that some people have sophomoric reactions to the Marilyn sculpture. Some will never grow up. Instead, I think she's beautiful and represents American iconography at it's best.

3 years ago
Posted by funnyboy

Dear mopes, LIGHTEN UP! I LOVE her!!! She's whimsical, kitchy and fun!!! I love looking at childrens reactions looking up at her! As for her place in Chicago? Hey! Everyone knows it's WINDY!!!

3 years ago
Posted by 6bridget

I have seen Marilyn and she is great!! I am a woman and don't feel that this sculpture is anything but fun. Get over yourselves, take it at face value and let a little breeze blow up your skirts!

3 years ago
Posted by vsays

I think it is nifty! It would be great to see a flash mob of Marilyn look alikes all in The Dress and Pose underneath! what a photo that would make. Could be trannies or women, who cares! It looks to me that there are enough people enjoying the sculpture, for whatever reasons, to consider it a "success". The process of its creation is interesting and something only a rich guy would have time and resources to do, but that is ok too. In the past, artists had to be supported by wealthy benefactors. Art is a luxury, but brings people together. Even if it is to complain about it.

3 years ago
Posted by Charvo53

... but is it art?

3 years ago
Posted by Charvo53

Is it supposed to be art?

3 years ago
Posted by Charvo53

Is it art by virtue of public discourse?

3 years ago
Posted by GomboMan

I think it's fantastic. I'm not usually a fan of whimsy, but for this, I'll make an exception.

3 years ago
Posted by WestCoast

What in the world does Marilyn Monroe have to do with Chicago? What an odd place to put a giant MM. I can 'maybe' see that monstrous piece of art(?) in Hollywood, but Chicago? Maybe a huge kielbasa would be better suited as an art structure.

3 years ago
Posted by wildest100

I am a woman and feel this is great art work. But I am more interested in the height and how long did it take for him to sculpt her. You cannot make everyone happy. Someone is always going to compalin because it is in their nature.

3 years ago
Posted by funnyboy

"What isn't?"--Pablo Picasso when asked, "What is art?"

3 years ago
Posted by oris56this1

Her face looks too chubby in the photograph above. I don't think at this angle she looks realistic.

3 years ago
Posted by ssheila11

I don't understand why they put the statue here in Chicago,seems like Vegas or California would of been a more appropriate place.I mean did Marilyn Monroe have any ties to Chicago?Wonder if its gonna cost the city anything for the upkeep? I don't have any problems with it being here,a great conversation piece.

3 years ago
Posted by jettsetter69

I think it is terrific to see this larger than life Marilyn! It does seem like something that belongs in California or Las Vegas though! I would love to see it ....for real! Next time I'm in Chicago....I'll make a point to seek it out! She was a true Sex Symbol & Icon! Go Marilyn, Go!

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