Prime Edition

There’s only one Marilyn Monroe
ADITYA MANI JHA  22nd Nov 2014

Armstrong Bike Rider by David Gerstein.

here's something about Marilyn. There have been others, both before and after her, who've captured the imagination of the world with a cocktail of youth, coquetry and dazzling good looks. But nobody used their charisma (onscreen and offscreen) quite like Marilyn Monroe did. Her mysterious and untimely death (that soon became fodder for conspiracy theory buffs) at 36 meant that Monroe will never grow old and wrinkled; she has been cursed to stay forever young. In the weeks immediately after her death, American artist Andy Warhol created one of his most popular works, Diptych Marilyn, an array of 50 replications of one of her publicity stills. Half of these were in the kind of garish, indulgent colours that Warhol's pop art was famous for, while the other half was in black and white; a nod towards the star's troubled personal life and the many different public personas she circulated during her lifetime.

Bruno Art, in their group exhibition of Israeli pop art at the India Habitat Centre (IHC), have included the 57-year-old artist Dganit Blechner, whose work includes several Marilyn Monroe paintings, rendered in the pop art style with some psychedelic elements thrown in for good measure. In a work called Marilyn Butterfly, we see Monroe doing her best seductive pout; a translucent figure superimposed over technicolor butterflies prancing around the canvas. The words "LOVE ME" are scrawled at the bottom of the work. The atmosphere created by the artist is such that these words sound more like a desperate plea than anything else. Blechner's biggest achievement is that of economy: like Warhol, she communicates the fragility and the allure of Monroe in the same breath, and that too without breaking the structural integrity of her work. In The Art of Beauty, we see Monroe, mouth half-open in an even sultrier pout, eyes narrowed in erotic anticipation, even as she is surrounded by shapes that seem abstract at first sight, but reveal the bare outlines of dresses, makeup items and so on when seen closely. Clearly, looking impeccable is not a task for the faint-hearted.

In Marilyn Butterfly, we see Monroe doing her best seductive pout; a translucent figure superimposed over technicolor butterflies prancing around the canvas.

However, Blechner's most impressive Monroe painting is, undoubtedly, There is Only One Marilyn. Here, Monroe is entirely engulfed by a mouth heavy with bright pink lipstick (presumably her own?). A superimposed bubblegum hides Monroe's expression, so we don't know whether she is amused, poised, frightened or angry. At a stroke, Blechner has described how Monroe had become nothing more or less than the ultimate consumer product; blowing up like a bright bubble gum before being spit out unceremoniously.

And Blechner isn't even the most eye-catching part of the exhibition. That tag belongs to 86-year-old Yaacov Agam, perhaps the most well-known Israeli artist alive, and a specialist in a style called "kinetic art" that he pioneered. Fifty years ago, Agam wrote a manifesto of sorts, where he explained his vision. He wrote, "My intention was to create a work of art that would transcend the visible, which cannot be perceived except in stages, with the understanding that it is a partial revelation and not the perpetuation of the existing. My aim is to show what can be seen within the limits of possibility that exists in the midst of coming into being." Agam is known for his "moving pictures"; looking at his works from different angles reveals different images.Image 2nd

Such an arrangement, dubbed "agamograph", is all the more arresting when the work holds a larger political or personal significance, like Peaceful Communication with the World, a piece he did for the World Games 2009 in Taiwan. In this installation, there are hexagonal pillars painted and arranged in such a way that growing children will discover new images as they grow older.

David Gerstein's sculptures, created with the help of a laser, are also worth a watch: some of them appear gimmicky at first sight, but they are deeply intelligent works, made by a mature artist assured in his technique. The same goes for Calman Shemi, whose work includes a series called "window paintings". Shemi's technique is simple but thoughtful. He paints an array of images – or one, large, all-encompassing image, typically that of a landscape — typically, of a box. He then places a handmade wooden frame over the box so that the overall effect feels like looking out of a window, which was the starting point of these paintings.

There is a lot of food for thought right now at IHC's Visual Arts Gallery (today is the last day it's on, if you're reading this early enough), especially for pop culture enthusiasts. And maybe this is not a sentence said often enough in her lifetime, but we can all learn something from Marilyn Monroe.

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