There is never enough Marilyn! In March, Bendigo Art Gallery launches a world-first exhibition celebrating the iconic movie star, displaying her treasured artefacts, film costumes and items from her personal wardrobe, curated from private collections around the world.
Luckily for fans, Bendigo’s burgeoning foodie scene and picturesque charm will make this exhibition all the more fun. And the event is a wonderful coup for rural Victoria’s thriving arts scene.
“We’re pretty ambitious,” laughs senior curator Tansy Curtin, acknowledging the gallery’s reputation for staging big exhibitions. Grace Kelly: Style Icon smashed records in 2012, attracting more than 135,000 visitors and injecting $17 million into the local economy.
Much of the new collection was sourced in the US and Europe “and we did find a bolero and dress here in Australia as well.”
A collaboration with Twentieth Century Fox has also unearthed documents never seen before. “There’s studio correspondence about Marilyn’s new movie-star name, troubles on her last film set… as well as posters and objects that give context.”
Giant banners of Marilyn in gold lamé line the streets of Bendigo, reasserting her screen-goddess status – but the exhibition also showcases the fascinating interplay of public and private.
“It’s so easy to get caught up in the glamour,” says Curtin. “She was so good at myth-making. But we’re trying to peel back the layers and work out the humanity of Norma Jean [her real name] as well. Marilyn would’ve been 90 this year, so the timing is quite pertinent, as she’s starting to leave living memory.”
Curtin has the enviable task of seeing precious fashion pieces up close. “Marilyn has this beautiful hourglass figure – curvy, with a tiny waist. We’re trying to get the shapes right, so we aren’t using traditional mannequins but bespoke body forms. It’s fascinating seeing the little details, like rough costume seams hastily put together for the camera.”
Tragic beginnings, kittenish vulnerability and overt sexuality are just some of the elements that draw us to the Marilyn story; her fashion pieces are now talismanic objects that connect us to a star vanished forever. Bendigo’s new culture experience is also an opportunity to explore a delightful town that’s getting rediscovered – and is more than ready for its close-up.
Bendigo Art Gallery and Twentieth Century Fox present Marilyn Monroe, March 5–July 10.