Multiple protests, a popular petition, a legal action and a small fire have not been enough to stop the city of Palm Springs from installing a supersized and hyper-sexualised Marilyn Monroe sculpture on a public site next to the Palm Springs Art Museum. On Sunday night city council members presided over a dedication ceremony for the sculpture by John Seward Johnson II known as Forever Marilyn—or #metoomarilyn by those who find it exploitative—that shows the actress with her white dress flying up above her waist. There was no damage from the fire, which took place ten days ago, when welders were working on sculpture and some bubble wrap started smoking.
The ceremony came complete with a flyover from a vintage Second World War plane from the Palm Springs Air Museum, known as a North American T-28A Trojan. But no leaders of the art museum, which now has a view of Marilyn’s exposed underwear, were an official part of the ceremony. The last four directors of the museum have publicly opposed its placement there, as have a number of activist groups, including Crema (the Committee for the Relocation of Marilyn) and the Women’s March L.A.
Both of these groups sent protestors to the dedication ceremony on Sunday, with chants that drowned out some of the speakers. “It was nonstop chanting, both pro and con—you couldn’t really hear the speakers,” said modernism connoisseur Chris Menrad, who co-founded Crema with the Palm Springs fashion designer Trina Turk. “The goal of us being there was basically to disrupt the event and communicate our displeasure.”
The city council, which voted unanimously to place Marilyn in this location after it was bought by a city-funded tourism agency (it previously made a cameo downtown in 2012-14) has repeatedly given a boost in tourism as their reason for doing so. Reached by phone in Santa Fe, Turk counters that the only thing that the sculpture has accomplished in the past is boosting Instagram posts, saying “social media posts don’t pay the bills”.
“They’re talking about helping all the struggling businesses downtown who have lost revenue because of Covid. But if you look at the place lately, it’s a zoo. Our numbers have been better than they were in 2019,” she added, referring to her flagship store downtown.
She adds that Crema is still seeking the sculpture’s relocation from in front of the museum through a lawsuit against the city and P.S. Resorts, citing various public codes and the museum’s landmark status as a Class One historic monument.
“We’re going to see the legal thing through to the very end, even if that means appealing and appealing and appealing. I don’t think the protests will be over either,” Turk says.