When the Marilyn Monroe statue with her billowing white dress appeared in downtown Palm Springs a decade ago, she drew lots of attention. From 2012 to 2014, people came to snap a photo of her 26-foot likeness inspired by a scene from her 1955 film “The Seven Year Itch.” The city even showed free outdoor movies featuring the “blond bombshell” during the sculpture’s stint at Palm Canyon Drive and Tahquitz Canyon Way.
Then the sculpture was removed.
Now “Forever Marilyn” by J. Seward Johnson is set to return to a prominent spot in the resort town — and not everyone is happy about it.
Backers hope “Marilyn” will give downtown businesses a post-pandemic boost. “She will be the key catalyst, she will put us back again on the map and she will be the magnet (to lift) our businesses that have been hurting during the pandemic,” said Aftab Dada, Hilton Palm Springs manager and chairman of the tourism group PS Resorts.
PS Resorts paid $1 million for the statue, which before its first Palm Springs stint stood in Chicago. It’s to be installed on Museum Way near the city’s art museum on April 25. The date was supposed to be March 28 and then April 18. Why the delays? Dada said in an email the construction crew installing the sculpture needed “several days longer than originally anticipated.”
The City Council approved the statue’s location for three years, despite protests from those in the community who say it’s blatantly sexist.
Palm Springs Art Museum director Louis Grachos told the council that museum visitors, particularly schoolchildren, would stare at Marilyn’s backside and underwear when they entered the museum. “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?” he said, according to media reports.
The Committee to Relocate Marilyn raises other issues about the site. CReMa, as it’s known, seeks to move the planned site because it “will block important sight lines and co-opts the taxpayer-funded street leading to noted Palm Springs architect E. Stewart Williams’ architecturally significant Palm Springs Art Museum,” according to a statement on its GoFundMe page. The group also charges the placement unfairly closes a street and contradicts a downtown plan adopted in 2016. So far, the group has raised $37,914 of its $50,000 goal.
Dada’s response to the critics: “We have 8 billion human beings on this Earth, naturally they have different mind, different opinions ... but believe me, the majority of the feedback since she left is, ‘When are you going to bring her back?’” he said. Dada also said that after the sculpture had been in place for two years, a report would be undertaken to assess the financial impact on the community.
After leaving Palm Springs, the statue returned to New Jersey as part of a retrospective of the late sculptor’s work. It also traveled to Bendigo, Australia, and Stamford, Conn., in 2018, where some complained because the statue’s backside faced a church.