Republished from The Argentina Independent
As you walk into the Sample Photos of Marilyn Monroe exhibit at the Borges Cultural Center, take a look to your left. See those two red panels? Generally, museum patrons tend to, at best, skim over introductory displays, but you’re going to want to read these.
“What the photograph reproduces is an instant, that is always a choice to represent the reality,” reads the introduction, written by exhibit curator Blanca María Monzón. “But at the same time, it gives an account, in this case, of how we desire to display ourselves to others. Because the subject of these series of photos is a myth that survives in them.”
To the left of those big red rectangles lies the myth herself: Norma Jeane Mortenson. Or, as you may know her, Marilyn Monroe. This picture, taken in 1945, provides definitive proof that the myth itself actually is a myth. You probably don’t even recognise Monroe, who is not the blonde sex symbol she’s remembered for but a brunette with curly hair coiling past her shoulders and a smile so innocent it could only be pulled off with someone whose middle name of Jeane.
The thing about myths is that they tend to get oversimplified. You know Marilyn Monroe but there’s a good chance that all you really know boils down to blonde hair, red lipstick, and a sexy rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Besides the introduction, a biographic timeline and some quotes scattered here and there, the exhibit doesn’t do much to hold your hand as you flesh out your image of Monroe. And that’s a good thing, because you really get to choose your own adventure when investigating the life of Monroe, rather than simply pick up a gift-wrapped bundle of truth, which, by their very nature, myths transcend.
It might have been nice if there were some video pieces to accompany the photographs, to see Monroe do her thing. But this is an exhibit of photos, and the story told by the fleeting moments represented in them is the story Monzón is trying to tell.
“It is my intention, that upon observing these photographs we take into account that no one is more than a copy, a real or imaginary copy whose similarity refers to the identity of the subject but will never be it in its totality,” reads another paragraph of Monzón’s introduction.
And as you take photos of these photos, you realise just how true that is. Each layer of photograph adds another dimension of separation from the real thing, adds a new element to the story.
Whatever storyline you might choose to extract from this exhibit, there are a few truths that, no matter how great the Monroe myth may become, you will never be able to escape:
Marilyn Monroe was a gorgeous woman. She is often thought of as over-sexualised, but as you proceed through the years of her life, it becomes obvious that this woman becoming an emblem of beauty and sex in the 20th century was no accident. Her films had some entertaining translations when presented in Spanish. Among the most amusing: “Some Like It Hot” translated as “Una Eva Y Dos Adanes” (“An Eve and Two Adams”), “Let’s Make Love” as “El Adorable Pecadora” (“The Lovely Sinner”), and “Monkey Business” as “Vitaminas Para El Amor” (“Vitamins For Love”).
Perhaps this ‘lost in translation’ is why the legend of Marilyn Monroe doesn’t seem to have captured Argentina as it has other countries – there are only few people milling around the exhibit soon after it opened. That doesn’t make it any less interesting. Remember, these photographs are merely copies of the real deal. In fact, as Monzón argues, so are the people in them.
The exhibit is presented by the Graphic Reporters Association of Argentina (ARGRA) and runs until 14th April. General admittance is $30 and $20 for seniors and students. The Borges Cultural Center is lovated at Viamonte 500. From Monday to Saturday, the exhibit is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Sundays it runs from noon to 9pm.