By Scott Beveridge
It struck me years ago while painting the portrait, above, of Marilyn Monroe that she had a perfectly symmetrical face except for that famous mole on her lower left cheek.
That balance of genetics could have gone a long way to explain why the screen icon was so beautiful and photogenic, and also became the subject of works created by internationally-known artists.
This phenom has been wonderfully documented in a new exhibit, Marilyn Monroe: Life as a Legend, at Pittsburgh's The Warhol museum dedicated to the artist whose career was launched by his images of the blond actress. Andy Warhol's earliest Monroe portraits were included in his first solo show at Stable Gallery in New York in 1962.
Warhol's "rise to fame is inextricably linked to his art" of Monroe, the museum explained in a description of the Monroe exhibit. This has become the largest museum in the world dedicated to one artist, and the perfect place to celebrate the life of such a gifted and tragic Hollywood legend.
The elevator to the top floor opens to a large photo of her from the Ballerina Series captured by photographer Milton H. Greene, the shot with her pointed toes, body leaning forward and right index finger extended toward her face. It had to be among the most-recognized pictures of Monroe, having been included in millions of pinup calendars since her 1962 death.
The Warhol attempts to explain Monroe's allure and sex appeal in a nearby wallboard that states the portraits around these rooms captured her "determination, innocence and vulnerability," as well as her "vibrant personality, femininity and sensuality."
Around the corner the walls are lined with black-and-white photos, including many movie stills, that caught Warhol's eye, including the one of her wearing that white pleated dress blowing upward while she stands on a subway grate outside Wright's Food store to promote the 1955 film "The Seventh Year Itch." Nearby is the portrait that inspired Andy's Monroe silkscreens, 10 of which also line a wall there.
The following telling Monroe quote can be seen on a wall: "An actress is not a machine, but they treat you like a machine." Yet the many images survive as evidence she might have found much pleasure in toying before the lens. The same went for Warhol, who posed for a series of photos on display showing him dressed in drag and wearing a blond Monroe-style wig.
Monroe's final photo shoot months before her apparent suicide probably gave her fans her best performance for a photographer. Bert Stern forever caught her then-beautiful mature body, breasts fully exposed behind see-through material.
"I want to be an artist, an actress with integrity," she told a reporter for Vogue magazine, which published Stern's images. She also told that writer she "didn't want to look like a joke."
Visitors at the museum today lingered silently before the images as if they were worshiping her features. No one was laughing. I walked away reminded of my own brief obsession with her, and understood it better.
This exhibit on the seventh and fourth floors at 117 Sandusky St. runs through Jan. 2, 2011.