If nothing else, Marilyn had legs.
The crowds began posing beneath the 26-foot-tall Marilyn Monroe's billowing skirt from the moment that Seward Johnson's Forever Marilyn sculpture arrived in Pioneer Court in July, and they were doing so with just as much enthusiasm and amusement Tuesday, a mere six days before the sculpture finally moves on to the next city. Jenee Castellanos, associate curator at the Sculpture Foundation, said the group will announce the next city that will get to gawk at Forever Marilyn in a couple of weeks. (A report from NBC Chicago Tuesday claimed the statue will be installed in Palm Springs, Calif., for a year; a spokeswoman for the Sculpture Foundation said the foundation would be making an announcement soon and could not verify the information in the report.)
Meanwhile, the Zeller Realty Group folks (owners of Pioneer Court) aren't saying what will replace her, or when that will happen. But don't be shocked if Seward Johnson strikes again.
"We've really enjoyed working with Seward Johnson," Zeller Realty Group executive assistant Melissa Farrell said. "I can't say for sure what the next work will be, the next installation, but we think his sculptures are very well suited for our plaza."
Forever Marilyn, which recreates the famous moment from the 1955 movie "The Seven Year Itch" in which a New York subway grate blows the sex symbol's skirt up, has been one of the city's most discussed, most debated and most gawked-at works of public art. The New Jersey-based Johnson's previous installation in that space, a similarly oversized rendering of the couple from Grant Wood's "American Gothic" called God Bless America, received plenty of attention but didn't inspire countless passersby to pose for photos while ogling the farmer wife's underwear.
Since Monday's announcement that Forever Marilyn will become Gone Marilyn as of next Monday, the Twittersphere has been percolating with comments on the subject: "Looking up Marilyn Monroe's skirt isn't any less creepy because she's a statue." "What new creepy statue will we get now?!" "The Marilyn Monroe statue comes down Monday, ending a long civic nightmare."
Back in August the website virtualtourist.com ranked Forever Marilyn No. 1 among its top 10 pieces of bad public art, citing its huge scale, "its impropriety given that the movie to which it pays tribute is set in New York and its perceived crudeness given that viewers are able to look directly up the screen siren's dress."
But no matter; Zeller, which owns the plaza located on the east side of Michigan Avenue between the Chicago River and the Tribune Tower, considers the installation a success.
"She's the most photographed thing we've had on the plaza," Farrell said. "All hours of the day people are posing with her, taking pictures. We see it on our security cameras. She always has a crowd."
When the sculpture was unveiled last summer, the Sculpture Foundation director Paula Stoeke, whose Santa Monica, Calif.-based organization provided Forever Marilyn to the space at no cost, said such a level of attention would be the point.
"The congregation of people is one of the hallmarks of public art," Stoeke said in a statement at the time.
Almost nine months later, the foundation considers its mission accomplished.
"She was really well received in Chicago," said Castellanos. "We've gotten great feedback of people thinking she's beautiful, and they loved seeing her there."
Tim Samuelson, cultural historian for the City of Chicago, agreed that the sculpture seemed to fulfill its purpose.
"No matter what opinions people had about Mega-Marilyn as a work of art, it was rare to have a sculpture that could attract a crowd at any hour of the day or night," he said. "Even passing by late at night, I never saw her standing alone. And when someone tagged her leg with grafitti, there were actual expressions (of) outrage and indignation. There were definiitely unusual forces at work in the way she was received by the public."
"Probably what's most surprising for us is how she hit a nerve," Farrell said, "how the reaction was very positive or negative but everybody has an opinion on it. I don't think we expected that much of a public voice about her."
The detractors certainly haven't been shy.
"I don't really consider it a piece of art so much as a piece of decoration," Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick said. "There's so much great sculpture here, really talented people, and they go and get this piece of (crap)."
Paula Kamen, an Evanston-based feminist and author ("Finding Iris Chang") was less bothered by the sculpture's sexual implications than its lack of cultural relevance.
"There wasn't a compelling reason for it to be there," Kamen said. "There wasn't a context for it, so the peep show aspect became more prominent in the discussion of it."
Farrell said about 40,000 people pass through the plaza every day, and her office has fielded numerous calls from tourists asking how long the statue would be there so they could travel to see it. With the word out that Forever Marilyn's days were numbered, visitors were paying their respects Tuesday.
Tour bus driver Russell Blackburn, 74, said the towering Marilyn has made Pioneer Court a favorite stop on his route, far more popular than the "American Gothic" sculpture.
Dennis Allen of Wilmette made his first trek to visit the statue Tuesday after hearing it was soon to be removed. A former art director and illustrator for a downtown advertising firm, Allen said he listened to the debate about the statue's artistic merits and came down on the side of Marilyn.
"It's American iconography, overscale Americana," he said. "I enjoyed the controversy, but anything like this, a display of public art, is good for the city."
He added that he can understand why the statue is popular with tourists.
"There is a prurient interest, I suppose," Allen said. "You've got the three-inch pumps, the skirt billowing. You can't beat it. If you want to recreate 'The Last Supper' 30 feet high, go ahead. It won't bring as many people."
Tribune reporter Andy Grimm contributed to this story.