Andre de Dienes and Marilyn and California Girls

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“Study in Sadness”, Marilyn Monroe in an Alley in Beverly Hills, California, 1953
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Marilyn Monroe, Tobay Beach, Long Island, NY, Summer 1949
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Marilyn Monroe, Tobay Beach, Long Island, NY, Summer 1949

Marilyn Monroe is a fascinating American icon. In her time she was adored for her sensuous beauty, her unabashed sexuality and her coy yet playful persona. After her death, when it became clear that Marilyn had not been just a sweet and sexy young woman but also battling some dark and haunting demons, America’s infatuation with her grew all the more. The duality of her personality has cultivated an aura of unforgettable fascination around the troubled actress, which is to say that even today, her name holds attraction for most. This past Thursday the Steven Kasher Gallery* opened a dual show of the photographer Andre de Dienes’ work, entitled Andre de Dienes: Marilyn and California Girls, which exhibits two of the artist’s most recognizable bodies of work, a series of avant-guard female nudes and another series of very rare, very expressive portraits of Marilyn Monroe. These photographs of Marilyn where taken privately, in the years 1945, 1946, 1949 and 1953. In the 1945 shoot, Marilyn was still called Norma Jeane Baker, but by 1953, she had transformed into a sophisticated movie star. All but one of the shoots de Dienes had with Marilyn were at the beach. De Dienes’ last time photographing Marilyn was in 1953, when she called him late at night. This shoot happened in an alleyway in Hollywood, and de Dienes had to use his car’s headlights to light it. De Dienes’ photographs illustrate a multitude of Marilyns. There is the beautiful blonde Marilyn with a wide, vivacious smile, there is the angelic, otherworldly Marilyn, there is the lonely, broken Marilyn, there is the innocent, playful Marilyn. It’s difficult to tell if this diversity of character is a result of de Dienes skill as a photographer or of Marilyn’s skill as an actress. Each photograph is so beautiful, each Marilyn is so expressive. Every photograph you look at you think to yourself, “This must be the real Marilyn”, but then with the next photograph, you find yourself thinking the same thought. Eventually, this becomes a troubling exercise. It is so easy to read each of Marilyn’s expressions and believe they’re genuine. Convictions become questions, you stand there and wonder, “Is this the real Marilyn? Is this? How about her? Is she the real Marilyn?” Ultimately, this experience proves that the real Marilyn was probably someone none of us will ever get to see, and someone who very few people ever really knew.

  • Andre de Dienes show Andre de Dienes: Marilyn and California Girls

Is on view at the Steven Kasher Gallery,  515 W 26th St,

From June 9th to July 30th

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