Panties on parade in Chicago’s new giant Marilyn Monroe

giant marilyn

A giant Marilyn Monroe can look down on all of Chicago's Magnificent Mile. Photo by Terri Colby

Public art seems to always spark a conversation, at the very least, and in Chicago these days the Windy City is living up to its name with the conversations swirling around the newest piece of art on display: It’s a giant Marilyn Monroe on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, positioned in her famous pose from “The Seven Year Itch,” with her skirt blowing up as she stands over a subway grate.

This skirt isn’t stirring. It’s made of aluminum and stainless steel and doesn’t move when Chicago’s winds blow. But the statue, “Forever Marilyn” by New Jersey artist J. Stewart Johnson has been creating a stir all summer.

Tourists flock to the area just north of the Chicago River, where tour boats dislodge their riders and where visitors begin their trek to the shopping mecca further north. Bachelor parties have stopped by. Everyone has a camera and many of them are standing between her legs, shooting up.

Some call it whimsical. Some call it schlock. Others call it disturbing and sexist.

I saw it for the first time in person this week. And despite the fact that I love whimsy and it is somewhat whimsical, there’s still something about it that just feels creepy. All the people walking between her legs and taking photographs looking up. The skirt locked in updraft position, white panties on display.


A rear view of the giant Marilyn Monroe sculpture in Chicago. Photo by Terri Colby

On Thursday, a small group of men stood a bit distant from the statue, huddled together behind the panties and watching the tourists scramble for the best up-shot they could get. The men were smirking as they chatted and kept their eyes focused on the giant bare legs. Could have been they were talking about something altogether different.  But it just didn’t feel right.

marilyn sculpture

Looks like these feet have seen better days. Photo by Terri Colby

And something else feels off about the statue as well. Poor Marilyn; after a bit more than a month with her skirt up in the air, there are marks of dirt on her legs and toenail-painted feet. What can you expect with wind and rain and whatever else blows around in the heart of the city?

Whatever you think of it, the statue has started some great discussions in this city. It is what my father would have called a conversation piece. A giant one.