Andy Warhol, Gold Marilyn Monroe

Andy Warhol, Gold Marilyn Monroe, silkscreen ink on synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 71.25 x 57″ (211.4 x 144.7 cm), 1962 (Museum of Modern Art, New York)

[0:00] [music]

Dr. Steven Zucker: [0:05] …fourth floor of the Museum of Modern Art, in the room devoted to Pop Art, and we are looking at a really great painting.

Dr. Beth Harris: [0:12] It’s actually a really large painting.

Dr. Zucker: [0:14] And it’s not really a painting entirely. It’s called “Gold Marilyn,” as in Marilyn Monroe. It’s from 1962, and it’s not only that it’s big, but it feels expensive because most of the canvas is covered with this slightly metallic, bronze-ish gold paint.

Dr. Harris: [0:30] Marilyn’s head’s sort of floating.

Dr. Zucker: [0:32] In a rectangle in the center.

Dr. Harris: [0:34] In the center. In the very center of it.

Dr. Zucker: [0:34] Too small. I mean, really sort of weirdly isolated within the plane of the gold, but look at Marilyn’s head. First of all, this is interesting because it was from, if I remember correctly, the last photo session that she vetted and she sort of approved. If you look at it, it’s actually terribly printed. It’s not painted at all.

Dr. Harris: [0:50] No, it’s a print.

Dr. Zucker: [0:51] Yeah, from a newspaper. Right? From a photograph from a newspaper that’s been blown up, printed in black, and then really garishly overprinted with bad registration, with these horrible colors that came right out of Dick Tracy comic strips. This yellow on top of the black for the hair…

Dr. Harris: [1:05] And the red for the lipstick and the green eye shadow.

Dr. Zucker: [1:07] Oh, God. This turquoise is just awful, isn’t it?

Dr. Harris: [1:10] Yeah.

Dr. Zucker: [1:10] Really, the most glamorously garish, the red of the lips over the black. This was right after her suicide, so this is very powerful stuff. This is almost a memorial. I think it’s got religious overtones. I think this is a kind of icon. I think that the gold is functioning like the gold in a Byzantine painting, and she’s replaced the Virgin Mary.

[1:29] She is in our consumer culture, in our culture of glamour, of fame, which was incredibly important to Warhol, she is now…

Dr. Harris: [1:37] That is our culture. That is who we are.

Dr. Zucker: [1:39] That’s Warhol’s brilliance. He’s not thinking about the history of art so much as what is authentic to now. In fact, let’s go back to the printing issue. Warhol makes this really interesting assessment, which is that painting is no longer an entirely authentic process in 1962.

[1:55] When we live in a world that is a world of manufacture, of mass production, then he steps back, and he stops painting. He starts making prints, which are in multiple. He starts hiring people to make his prints for him, and he does this in a studio which he calls The Factory.

[2:08] This has got to have been upsetting, in fact, to people who were still looking for the craft of painting. Worse than that, what Pop’s main issue was turning the still life, the landscape, traditional history painting, what was left of it, all of those, in a sense ancient traditions, on its head and looking to popular culture.

[2:27] Painting no longer the Virgin Mary but a pop icon is an incredibly powerful, aggressive statement against Western culture.

[2:34] It was Lichtenstein who was asked — I think it was 1961 or ’62 — what was Pop Art? He said, “After Abstract Expressionism, we could take an oil-soaked rag, put it on the wall, and somebody would call it a work of art.

[2:45] “We were looking for something that was still despicable.” He said the thing that was still really despicable was popular visual culture.

Dr. Harris: [2:51] Right.

Dr. Zucker: [2:52] Was the stuff of our commercial world.

Dr. Harris: [2:53] The low culture. To me, this opens up a whole issue about identity and the way we assume identity.

Dr. Zucker: [3:00] This is not Marilyn. In fact, we don’t have any access to who she actually is at all.

Dr. Harris: [3:04] Exactly.

Dr. Zucker: [3:04] What we have here is her mask.

[3:06] [music]

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

[flickr_tags user_id=”82032880@N00″ tags=”WarholGoldMarilyn,”]

More Smarthistory images…

Cite this page as: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, "Andy Warhol, Gold Marilyn Monroe," in Smarthistory, November 18, 2015, accessed July 18, 2024,