Barbara Bloom’s Marilyn in Grayscale

Sad Gray Story‘ is one of seven installations by Barbara Bloom, inspired by iconic cultural figures and featured in her recent exhibition, Works on Paper, on Paper, at the David Lewis Gallery on West 12th St, NYC. In it, a pile of books in grayscale sits on a chaise longue, itself placed on a giant scroll.

On the wall is a framed series of photos showing Marilyn reading, also in grayscale. You may recognise Edward Clark’s 1950 photo of Marilyn reading a script in Griffith Park, and Jock Carroll’s 1952 photo of the star reading her Niagara screenplay in bed. Also featured is a 1951 publicity shot of her reading Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass while lying on a lawn, and two candid photos showing her flipping through magazines.

These are just a few of the many images of Marilyn reading. The most famous, not included here, was Eve Arnold’s 1955 photo of her reading Ulysses. Marilyn may have posed for these photos in an effort to prove she was more than a dumb blonde, although her literary endeavours weren’t always taken seriously – hence the ‘sadness’ of Bloom’s ‘story.’ (In 2019, art critic Audrey Wollen published an essay on the topic here.)

Bloom’s first Marilyn-themed installation was ‘Foursome‘ (2017), based on Bruce Davidson’s 1960 photo of the Millers and Montands having dinner together, as part of her previous exhibit at the David Lewis Gallery, aptly titled A Picture, a Thousand Words.

Here’s a short essay on ‘Foursome’ from The Met.

“The complex historical, literary, and psychological resonances of Bloom’s ‘Foursome’ are rendered through elegantly simple means. Central to the installation is a black-and-white inkjet print of a famous photograph staged by Bruce Davidson at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1960. That year, Yves Montand moved into a bungalow at the hotel to film the movie Let’s Make Love by George Cukor. Montand and his wife, the actress Simone Signoret, grew close with their neighbors there, his co-star Marilyn Monroe and her then-husband, the playwright Arthur Miller. Davidson set the stage for his shoot by having the Montands host a dinner party for the Millers.

In the particular shot that the artist selected for Foursome, the group has sat down for dinner, and a complex web of gazes plays out. Signoret, at left, looks towards her husband Montand, who has his back to the photographer. He instead gazes at the blonde Monroe (with whom he is about to initiate an affair), and she instead turns to look at her husband Miller. Miller looks back towards Signoret, completing the circle. Bloom replicates this quadruple gaze of filmic desire in the sculptural element of the work, a small, oval pool table in the same, silvery toned, medium gray of the photograph’s mat and the wall behind it. Its fragile pockets are red wine goblets similar to those on the table in the picture, while the four cues with mirrored tips replicate the trajectories of each of the protagonists’ glances.”

And finally, another Davidson photo from that evening previously inspired a painting by 1960s British pop artist Sue Dunkley, showcased in a 2016 retrospective.