Saturday, 11 June 2016

Summer Reading Challenge: Bendigo Art Gallery & Twentieth Century Fox Present Marilyn Monroe

Bendigo Art Gallery & Twentieth Century Fox Present Marilyn Monroe is the accompanying book for the exhibit currently being held at the Bendigo Art Gallery. The book features information about the exhibition, how the gallery was loaned several of the pieces and information about the gallery's relationship with Twentieth Century Fox. It also features two excellent articles written by exhibition curator Tansy Curtin and Dr Susan Gillett of La Trobe University, a timeline of important events in Marilyn's life, a list of artefacts found in the exhibition and several stunning photographs of Marilyn herself.

In her piece titled 'Understanding Marilyn' Tansy Curtin looks at the role Marilyn's clothes and personal effects play in our understudying of her as a person. She explains how Marilyn's belongings where held in storage by her friends the Strasberg's until 1999 when several of them were auctioned off at Christies, sparking mania from Marilyn fans. A further auction was held in 2005. It is often sad to read about how some of her gowns, such as the famous one she wore to President Kennedy's birthday, have been bought by private collectors and have not been seen since their auction. Also interesting is Curtin's explanation of how the studio system frequently altered gowns for other stars. Marilyn's famous gold lamé gown was later worn by Jayne Mansfield and had to be altered to accommodate her larger bust. Marilyn's personal wardrobe on the other hand was understated and classic, a further schism between her created personality 'Marilyn Monroe' and her previous self, Norma Jeane.

Dr Susan Gillett's piece is titled, 'The Making of Marilyn Monroe', it deals with the differing public and private personas of Marilyn, her use of her femininity and sexuality, and the way in which she subtly subverted the chauvinism of the studio system.
The age in which Marilyn rose to fame was one dominated by the 'male gaze' and Marilyn especially was seen as a sex object and little more by the studio heads.
"The man is the actor, the active one; the woman is the spectacle, the fetishised sex object" p. 59

Marilyn however wanted greater, more human, roles and she was well aware of the way the public viewed her, she subtly added touches of knowing and humanity to the frequent show girl roles she played:
"Marilyn's genius as an actor is to work this line between parody and naturalism, knowing and not-knowing, giving and withholding, being the object par excellence and hinting that there is so much more than meets the eye" p. 60

"Both on and off the screen she was the object who did what an object is not meant to do: she exposed the double edge of men's glorification of the female body, discomforted their authority and entitlement, and- even worse- she demanded to mean more than they wanted her to" p. 65

Overall this is a great little book which is both the perfect companion to the exhibition and a fascinating book on its own. It is both respectful and insightful and definitely makes me want to read more about Marilyn.


  1. Great review! Thanks for participating. Did you go to the exhibit?

  2. Hello! Thanks for all your comments :) Yes I did go to the exhibit, it was fantastic! A really good blend of Marilyn's public and private lives.


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