‘Franklin Fifth Helena’: Artist Reimagines Marilyn’s Last Home

Artist Cynthia Talmadge’s latest solo show, Franklin Fifth Helena – at the 56 Henry gallery in New York until January 30 – is inspired by the turbulent last months of Marilyn’s life, as Annabel Keenan reports for Cultbytes.

“An immersive, architectural installation, Talmadge has created a psychologically complex, visually engaging, technically stunning domestic room. Made entirely of sand paintings, the installation explores the wild, toxic relationship between Marilyn Monroe and her psychoanalyst Ralph Greenson, a topic that has been the subject of countless conspiracy theories in connection to Monroe’s death.

Franklin Fifth Helena is rife with information. There are visual cues and subtle hints across the room, which is in the style of the 15th century Gubbio Studiolo, the famous study decorated with wood-inlay displaying cabinets full of the owner’s objects including books and scientific objects. Borrowing the studiolo format, Talmadge has meticulously covered the walls and ceiling with highly detailed sand paintings.

Parsing the objects and the room itself takes careful consideration. Talmadge offers no logical pathway or roadmap to understand the narrative, or if there even is one. For a visitor who isn’t familiar with the story of Monroe and Greenson, the room might appear to be part storage, part shrine to mid-century American culture. At the same, those who are familiar with their relationship will bring in their own theories and expectations of the visual cues they will, or want to, see.

Talmadge’s room thus blends elements of both Monroe and Greenson’s homes. The exhibition title nods to the two famous residences, the first and most prominently featured is 12305 Fifth Helena Drive, the Brentwood residence that was the final home of Monroe and where she was found dead in 1962. Greenson’s home was located at 902 Franklin Street in Santa Monica.

Much like conspiracy theories in general, Talmadge’s presentation is her own interpretation of the facts, fantasies, and hypotheses uncovered over the decades. Who added these items, when they were added, and if they were even real is all unknown. As unsolved as the circumstances of Monroe’s death and her relationship with Greenson, the meaning behind the contents of the room are left up to the viewer to decide.”