Pop artist Andy Warhol was fascinated by celebrities and preoccupied with loss, mortality, and disaster. Warhol began producing his iconic portraits of Marilyn Monroe shortly after the troubled actress committed suicide in August 1962. Around the same time, he began experimenting with silk-screening, a technique he used to reproduce existing photographs repeatedly, as if on an assembly line. Silk-screening tends to flatten the resulting image both literally and symbolically. Even the addition of acrylic paint, applied by the artist, does little to animate the Marilyn depicted here. Blue Marilyn belongs to the Marilyn Flavors series, eight of which, including this one, debuted at the Stable Gallery in New York in 1962. Like many of Warhol’s Monroe portraits, they are based on a black-and-white publicity still from the actor’s 1953 film Niagara. Alfred H. Barr, a Princeton alumnus and founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, purchased Blue Marilyn the year it was made and donated it to Princeton in 1978.
Coupling his interests in celebrity and tragedy, Warhol began producing the iconic portraits that popularly define his achievement with this portrait of Marilyn Monroe in 1962, shortly after the troubled actress committed suicide. Around the same time, he had begun experimenting with silk-screening, a technique used to reproduce existing images. The image of Marilyn seen here is based on a 1953 still for the movie Niagara. By duplicating a famous photograph and exploiting screen-printing’s tendency to shift colors and produce off-register effects, Warhol subverted the tradition of portraiture. Instead of presenting Marilyn as a unique individual, Warhol presents her as an infinitely reproducible image and thus contributes to her fame and to the cult of celebrity with which he is intertwined.
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