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Marilyn Monroe’s giant blowing skirt sculpture brings out the worst

Tourists can’t help but snap photos front new 26-foot “Forever Marilyn” statue North Michigan Avenue. | John H. White~Sun-Times

Tourists can’t help but snap photos in front of the new 26-foot “Forever Marilyn” statue on North Michigan Avenue. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 27, 2011 12:30AM

Marilyn’s making us look bad. Or maybe it’s more like we’re making ourselves look bad?

Or maybe it’s mostly tourists taking those already-cliched photos while clutching Marilyn’s ankle or gawking up her skirt.

Whatever the case, that beyond-kitschy, 26-foot sculpture recreating the moment when Marilyn Monroe’s dress flies up in “The Seven Year Itch” is threatening the Bean as the most photographed attraction in Chicago.

So we’re going from taking pictures of our own reflection to taking pictures while looking up the skirt of a giant woman.

This is not an upgrade.

A little after 9 a.m. on Sunday, there were at least three dozen camera-wielding fans taking photos of the Seward Johnson sculpture, which was built in New Jersey, shipped to Chicago and was officially unveiled Friday.

So for the record: a New Jersey-born artist creates a sculpture of a quintessential New York movie from 1955 — and it ends up in Pioneer Court on Michigan Avenue.

Did we lose a bet?

New York, New York

If we’re going to host a completely unsubtle, way too large tribute to some movie moment, why not something that, I don’t know, actually was filmed in Chicago?

Give me the Dark Knight or the Fugitive or Jake and Elwood — or if we’re going to go old school, Cary Grant in “North by Northwest” or James Stewart in “Call Northside 777.” Something that celebrates a memorable pop culture movie moment with a Chicago connection. Marilyn from “The Seven-Year Itch” on Michigan Avenue makes about as much artistic sense as a 26-foot-sculpture of Ferris Bueller having his big day off in Times Square.

Johnson’s work has always often been categorized as middle-brow at best, but I kinda like some of his realistic bronze castings, e.g., a businessman reading a newspaper on a park bench, and I thought the enormous “American Gothic” sculpture that previously occupied the Marilyn spot was more eye-catcher than eyesore.

But this thing is just hideous.

Imagine gingerly walking down the rickety stairs of some musty, un-air-conditioned “antiques and collectibles: shop on some Main Street in a town that has seen better days. Imagine stepping past the old magazines and comic books and coming across an amateurish figurine of Monroe in her most famous pose from “The Seven-Year Itch,” with a price tag of 89 cents.

Now imagine that thing coming to life, springing to a 26-foot height and planting itself in the heart of one of the most magnificent stretches in downtown Chicago. That’s what we’re stuck with.

Even worse than the sculpture itself is the photo-op behavior it’s inspiring. Men (and women) licking Marilyn’s leg, gawking up her skirt, pointing at her giant panties as they leer and laugh. It’s not that the sculpture is shocking or sexist or obscene — but it’s definitely bringing out the juvenile goofball in many of us.

At least Seven-Year Marilyn won’t be there forever. The installation will be taken down in the spring of 2012.

Here’s hoping Johnson’s next work for Chicago isn’t a re-creating of Sharon Stone’s pivotal moment in “Basic Instinct.”

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