Fire Breaks Out at ‘Forever Marilyn’ Sculpture Site

Controversy has raged since the announcement that Seward Johnson’s giant sculpture, ‘Forever Marilyn,’ would be placed on Museum Way in Palm Springs, with some local residents and business owners arguing that the statue is misogynist, staging protests and even forming a Committee to Relocate Marilyn and taking the city council to court (see here.)

Today, KESQ reports on another disturbing development in this ongoing fiasco. It’s unclear whether an arson attack has occurred or if the fire was accidental. But I’m reminded of the historic case of the Rokeby Venus, in which a 17th century nude painting by the Spanish artist

“Palm Springs firefighters responded to a fire at the Forever Marilyn sculpture site Friday afternoon. Photos from our crew show what appears to be burn marks around the plastic wrappings of Marilyn’s upper torso. It appears that crews were working to clean up the burnt plastic of the famous sculpture.

Firefighters cleared the scene by 1 p.m., according to News Channel 3 crew at the scene. Captain Nathan Gunkel of the Palm Springs Fire Department told News Channel 3 that it was a very small fire caused by the welders working. The fire was out before fire units arrived on scene.

The Forever Marilyn sculpture arrived at its new home on Museum Way in downtown Palm Springs on Wednesday. The 26-foot-tall, 34,000-pound sculpture of Marilyn Monroe made a cross country trip from New Jersey over the course of 8 days. The sculpture is scheduled to be fully assembled on June 17.

Forever Marilyn is set to be unveiled to the public with a special ceremony on Sunday, June 20 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. As of this time, it appears that the ceremony is going ahead as scheduled.”

It’s unclear as yet whether the fire was accidental or deliberate, or if the damage is serious. But I’m reminded of the historic case of the Rokeby Venus, in which a 17th century nude painting by the Spanish artist Diego Velasquez was slashed seven times with a meat cleaver at England’s National Gallery by suffragette Mary Richardson in 1914, in protest at the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the UK women’s suffrage movement. Richardson, who had also been disgusted at the way men leered at the painting, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, the maximum allowed for destruction of an artwork. The painting was later restored.

While I don’t believe for a second that ‘Forever Marilyn’ compares to the Rokeby Venus in artistic merit, it is striking that a century later, the female body remains so contentious; and that criticism of women’s objectification may have led to a work of art being violated, intentionally or otherwise.

The ‘Rokeby Venus’ was defaced by a protester in 1914