A 26-Foot Marilyn Monroe Statue Is Causing an Uproar Among Palm Springs Elite

For the second time, a group of well-heeled Palm Springs residents is fighting to remove the 26-foot statue of Marilyn Monroe by the late sculptor Seward Johnson that was installed last year on a public site next to the Palm Springs Museum of Art, the Art Newspaper reported Monday.

Forever Marilyn depicts Monroe in the iconic white dress she wore in the 1955 romcom The Seven Year Itch and, just as in the movie’s most memorable scene, the dress’s hem is lofted upward, as if the actress is perpetually standing over a New York City subway grate.

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Residents are infuriated by the sculpture’s “provocative” nature, specifically the lifted dress that reveals Marilyn’s unmentionables from some angles.

“You come out of the museum and the first thing you… see is a 26-foot-tall Marilyn Monroe with her entire backside and underwear exposed,” Palm Springs Museum of Art’s executive director Louis Grachos said at a city council meeting in 2020, when he opposed the installation. “What message does that send to our young people, our visitors and community to present a statue that objectifies women, is sexually charged and disrespectful?”

Protests besieged the installation in 2021 amid calls that the work was “misogyny in the guise of nostalgia,” “derivative, tone deaf,” “in poor taste,” and the “opposite of anything the museum stands for.”

Now, a once-dismissed lawsuit filed by the activist group CReMa (the Committee to Relocate Marilyn) against the City of Palm Springs has been reopened this month by California’s 4th District Court of Appeals, giving the anti-Marilyn cohort, which includes fashion designer Trina Turk and Modernist design collector Chris Menrad, another chance to force the statue’s removal.

The suit hinges on whether or not Palm Springs has the right to close down the street on which the statue was installed. According to California law, the city has the right to block traffic on public streets for temporary events. Palm Springs planned to bar traffic near the giant Marilyn for three years. CReMa disagrees, and so did the Appellate court.

“These enactments allow cities to temporarily close portions of streets for short-term events like holiday parades, neighborhood street fairs and block parties… proceedings that generally last for hours, days or perhaps as long as a few weeks. They do not vest cities with the expansive power to close public streets—for years on end—so statues or other semi-permanent works of art may be erected in the middle of those streets,” the court’s decision read.

There have even been a few ideas about where the sculpture should go. In a comment on a Change.org petition with 41,953 signatures titled Stop the misogynist #MeTooMarilyn statue in Palm Springs, Los Angeles artist Nathan Coutts said “if it must be displayed, move it down the road with the concrete dinosaurs near Cabazon, where it can exist as the campy roadside attraction it excels at being.”

The sculpture was purchased in 2020 by PS Resorts, a city-funded tourist agency that was mandated to increase tourism to Palm Springs. According to the Art Newspaper, the city council unanimously voted in 2021 for the statue’s placement near the museum.

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