A playful gust of wind kicked up during the suspenseful unveiling of a three-story Marilyn last week in New Jersey, as if it could compete with the breeze that famously lifted the “blonde bombshell’s” skirt in "The Seven Year Itch."
“Forever Marilyn,” created by renowned New Jersey sculptor Seward Johnson, will tower over the Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton Township until Sept. 21. Also on display are other Johnson works, including a 25-foot-tall interpretation of a snapshot that captured a sailor in Times Square passionately kissing a nurse as World War II officially ended.
But the big draw is Marilyn, a painted 17-ton figure that was forged of steel and aluminum in New Jersey four years ago for display in the hip downtown of Palm Springs. She recently returned to the East Coast on flatbed trucks in awkward pieces – a head and torso, a piece of her wavy skirt, legs – as crowds gathered along the highways to gawk.
On Friday, she made her debut at the arts garden, located just outside Trenton and founded by Johnson. The sculptor and an adoring crowd watched the unveiling, which became an event in itself. While a brisk wind whipped, Marilyn’s shimmery white cover-up billowed and then slowly revealed her, starting with red toenails. Momentarily the cloth tangled with her hair before ripping free.
The crowd oohed. Known for creating hundreds of realistic and life-size sculptures, Johnson has said that he wanted "Forever Marilyn" and his other enormous sculptures to capture the iconic, oversized role that they played in pop culture and history.
The Marilyn piece is impressive. She captures an image frozen in time when a whipped up skirt that reveals white undies was considered quite risqué. And now, visitors can stand under that wildly-flung skirt and be photographed, as many decided to do that day.
I saw this Marilyn two years ago in Palm Springs where she was all the rage, a campy decoration in a place brimming with Hollywood nostalgia. A dear friend lives there and says the town is heartsick over Marilyn’s flirtation with another city.