Like most pop-culture phenomena, Marilyn Monroe's appeal is both completely transparent and strangely inscrutable – a combination that only gets more complex as time adds its inevitable layers of mourning and irony.
So you had to like it that the splash artwork/performance piece at The Andy Warhol Museum's free 24-hour opening party for Marilyn Monroe: Life As a Legend was a bed mounted on the wall whose contents were One Beloved if Self-Destructive Star, Parodied.
The bed, an affair of white satin and white fur, was mounted on the wall that confronts you as you enter the museum. When I arrived, at about 10:30 p.m. last night, the bed was empty but for an odd, not-quite-priapic stump whose outlines were visible beneath the sheets.
Shortly, out of the crowd emerged four young women in curly blonde wigs, each with a Warholian bar of aquamarine eyeshadow dampening her lids, and masking-tape eyebrows above that. Each wore a white halter dress fit to billow over a steam grate. These were the attendants for a figure whose even larger, if egg-yolk-colored, wig had a pillow pre-attached to the rear. She wore identical makeup and a white corset-style night garment.
She doffed her sheer, white-feathered robe. Working with stepladders, and help from the four, The One climbed up, straddled that post, slunk under the sheets, and from that high perch lengthily held court like a sort of crucified clown-saint.
And the people did gather 'round.
The installation's creator was its star. Appropriately enough for the Warhol, Ariel Brickman is a former Pittsburgher who moved to New York City to further her art career. Now an artist's assistant, the former Warhol gallery attendant learned of the Marilyn show and pitched her Wall Marilyn to Eric Shiner, a museum curator.
From her vantage point, Brickman munched popcorn from one of the cinema-style boxes the museum provided, all the while conversing casually with patrons. Meanwhile, the four attendant Marilyns sat at her feet, one holding a big plastic jar reading "Goodnight Moon Rx" and full of little red pills.
"Yeah, I been takin' em all night," Brickman candidly told one visitor. She also painted her nails.
Brickman's piece cheekily and effectively complemented the show itself, a big touring exhibit that often echoed, though more somberly, the Pop Crucifixion theme.
The 24-hour party, free courtesy of the Allegheny Regional Asset District, had begun at 10 a.m. that morning. By 11 p.m., Shiner told CP, about 1,500 people had come through the doors, with not quite half the party left to go.
Other highlights included an announced but quite informal Marilyn look-alike contest. There were seven contestants, one of whom was a Barbie-sized Marilyn doll, rather unceremoniously wielded by a platinum-wigged Warhol impersonator; another was a wiry, phlegmatic fellow in a pink sheath dress, with full-sleeve tattoos and 8 o'clock shadow.
Four of the contestants, it should be added, did not need wigs, including the winner, a laughing Rubenesque young woman in leopard-print stilettos and a sort of New Wave 'do.