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‘This is sexist, man. I don’t like the way they’re objectifying her,’ says the guy in the Greenpeace T-shirt while laying on his back and aiming his camera up Marilyn Monroe’s skirt. ‘What would Joe DiMaggio think?’ a grey-haired woman clucks to her two friends before snapping their photo beneath the skirt.
‘Underpants!’ shouts a five-year-old boy, summing up the issue in a squeal. He jumps up and down, pointing to the pants of the 26-foot-tall sculpture on Michigan Avenue, Chicago’s main vein downtown.
A local company unveiled the eight-metre-tall Forever Marilyn, which shows the icon in her infamous skirt-billowing-over-a-subway-grate stance, in July. Citizens have been at odds ever since. Detractors say that it incites tacky, leering behaviour. Supporters say that it’s fun and rallies the public.
The day that I visit, Girl Scouts stand next to gay men admiring the sculpture’s slingback high heels. A busload of Chinese tourists swarms around Marilyn beside a young wedding party posing in their finery. Of course, a man in plaid shorts is licking Marilyn’s leg while his friends ready their iPhones.
Sadly, the blonde bombshell lacks a key attribute of Chicago’s other famed public artworks: Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate and Picasso’s untitled piece generated controversy when they debuted in 2004 and 1967 respectively, but had years to win over critics. Marilyn is set to be dismantled next spring.
Karla Zimmerman is the author of Lonely Planet’s Chicago city guide. She has lived in the city for 20 years.
This article was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.