‘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
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
This article was
published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.