If you’ve ever wanted a life-size statue of Marilyn Monroe, now’s your chance: J. Seward Johnson‘s realistic painted steel and aluminum statue of the blonde bomb-shell of the silver screen will be auctioned off at Weschler’s in Washington, DC, on September 18.
The Forever Marilyn sculpture captures the iconic scene from The Seven Year Itch (1955) in which a gust of wind from a passing subway train causes Monroe’s billowy white dress to fly up in the air. It is expected to fetch $50,000–70,000.
Only four sales of Seward’s work at auction are recorded in the artnet Price Database, three of which took place 10 or more years ago. So the Bishop said to the actress…, a life-size work of two house painters, set the artist’s record in 1998, bringing in $112,500 at Butterfields. Another of Johnson’s sculptures was hammered down for over $50,000 at the same sale. Oh, it’s you, welcome! sold for $36,000 at Christie’s New York in 2005, but the artist has sold much more modestly in the years since.
Weschler’s has only offered a Johnson work once before, a bronze statue of a man holding a an umbrella, titled Allow Me, which sold for $11,000 in 2009. The most recent recorded sale at auction of his work was in 2013, when Out of Touch fetched just $5,975 at Neal Auction Company.
Though it’s a small sample size, Johnson’s auction sales have been declining. Can the first Forever Marilyn to hit the block reverse the trend?
“The Marilyn figure is so not only provocative and such an iconic image,” Danielle Isaacs, the fine arts specialist at Weschler’s, told artnet News in a phone conversation, “but with the monumental version being so controversial in the news, we think that will help to raise the artist’s record for works recently sold at auction.”
Johnson‘s sculptures may strike you as kitschy, but his renditions of celebrities and famous artworks are a hit on Instagram, such as Embracing Peace, his massive recreation of the iconic Times Square V-Day kiss. The statue appeared last month in New York on the date’s 70th anniversary.
Forever Marilyn was made in an edition of six 68-inch-tall versions of the work, plus a monumental, 26-foot-tall copy that has traveled to Chicago, Palm Springs, California, and most recently to a retrospective at Grounds for Sculpture, the sculpture garden and museum founded by Johnson in Hamilton, New Jersey.
Though almost universally popular among tourists, critics haven’t always been fans. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun Times called the statue “hideous,” noting that “Even worse than the sculpture itself is the photo-op behavior it’s inspiring. Men (and women) licking Marilyn’s leg, gawking up her skirt, pointing at her giant panties as they leer and laugh.”
The massive Marilyn has nevertheless found a permanent home in Palm Springs. There, Mayor Steve Pougnet was quite sorry to see her leave in 2014 after a two-year visit, and has made good on his promise to secure the artwork’s return. “I will never say farewell. You know me, as the mayor, I always have a few tricks up my sleeve,” Pougnet promised the Desert Sun as the statue set off for New Jersey.
This past year, a Chinese knock-off version of the larger-than-life work was found discarded in a landfill, despite reportedly taking two years to produce.
New Yorkers will have a far easier time seeing Forever Marilyn, as they still have a few more days to catch “Seward Johnson in New York” at the Garment District Plaza, one of artnet News’s must-see summer public art installations.
The version up for auction hails from the St. Gregory Hotel in Washington, DC, and is being sold by the hotel’s management company after a redesign of the lobby.
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