The Art World’s Blonde Spot

Whether on the gritty Lower East Side or in the heart of Chelsea’s gallery district, the lustrous blondes of cultural history beckon to artists and admirers alike.

poster for Lawrence Schiller

Lawrence Schiller "Marilyn & Me"

at Steven Kasher Gallery
in the Chelsea 26th area
This event has ended - (2012-05-31 - 2012-06-30)

In Features by Victor P. Corona 2012-06-13 print

Lawrence Schiller. Marilyn Monroe, Something’s Got To Give, May 23, 1962. © Polaris Communications, Inc., All Rights Reserved, Courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York.

The art world’s summer kicked off with exhibitions tied to two legendary blondes that have been muses for artists and performers like James Rosenquist, Lou Reed, Anton Perich, and David LaChapelle. Steven Kasher Gallery’s show of Lawrence Schiller’s photographs of Marilyn Monroe and Clayton Gallery’s display of drawings by Candy Darling are very different but still poignant displays of the enduring appeal of these two women. What explains this fascination with them? Their beauty and personalities are only parts of the Monroe and Darling auras, compounded by their untimely deaths caused by drugs and cancer, respectively. Although the media tosses around the title “icon” far too casually, Monroe undoubtedly deserves the designation. As seen at Steven Kasher, Monroe’s image, whether swimming nude or relaxing at her home, still embodies feminine sexuality, the allure of Hollywood, and physical standards—fair or not—of American womanhood. Walking by Schiller’s massive photographs demands contemplation of both the power and burden of Monroe’s beauty. It emits a potent aura that seems to tinge anything related to her. Even Schiller’s contact sheets, the basic tools of a photographer’s trade, were elegantly framed alongside his portrayals of the classic Monroe look of gentle sensuality and coy surprise.

Although Darling was also a beautiful and talented actress and one of Andy Warhol’s favored Superstars, she was never able to clinch the great recognition that she sought throughout her life. Despite brushes with fame via work with Warhol, Tennessee Williams, and Werner Schroeter, the iconicity of Marilyn and other silver screen stars like Kim Novak eluded Darling. She has since become a champion and heroine to the transgendered community given the degree to which she was committed to her own carefully constructed identity. Darling’s relationships with other famous blondes were complicated. Candy was passed over by the director John Schlesinger for a film role that was instead offered to Cyrinda Fox. Her encounter with drag actress Divine, however, was said to have been thoroughly affectionate, as each of them professed their fandom for the other.

Lawrence Schiller. Marilyn Monroe, 1962. © Polaris Communications, Inc., All Rights Reserved, Courtesy Steven Kasher Gallery, New York.

A bit removed from the white cubes of Chelsea’s gallery district, the Clayton Patterson Gallery / Outlaw Art Museum on the Lower East Side exhibited a show of drawings and notebook pages composed by Darling. The opening night was hosted by Jeremiah Newton, Darling’s best friend and the producer of Beautiful Darling: The Life and Times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol Superstar. At its opening night, the small space filled with visitors like Astro Erle, the artists J. David McKenney and Conrad Ventur, Starliner Events producer Colleen Whitaker, drag historian Joe Jeffreys, the renowned make-up artist Kabuki, and Darian Darling, one of today’s leading nightlife blondes. Whereas the Monroe exhibit brims with her beauty and the career it produced, the smaller Darling exhibition overflows with her anguish and longing for the high life. The show could just as easily have been called “Yearnings.” Darling’s drawn images of longhaired beauties, full-lipped faces, and a painting of a mouthless blue person were accompanied by notebook pages with scrawled statements like, “Nobody loves me or wants me. I lead a dull uninteresting existence.” Other musings include “A life is action in passion,” or “the manner in which you answer the question and not the specific answer.”

Darian Darling and Kabuki at “Candy Darling: Drawings and Musings, 1969-1972.” Photo: Derek Mega.

In an excellent book recounting nearly two decades of collaboration with Warhol, former Interview editor Bob Colacello wrote that the only time he ever saw Warhol cry was when he heard that Darling had leukemia and a malignant tumor. Assessing the legacy of the Factory, Darling may have been the most glamorous of the Superstars, rivaled only by the gamine chic of Edie Sedgwick or the stunningly unique look of Jane Forth. Darling embodies the yearning for the life of glamour and exclusivity that so thoroughly grips the minds of young artists today. But despite her career troubles and unfulfilled dreams of fame, she retained an endearing elegance that drew people to her. Not long before her death, Darling had interviewed Lauren Hutton. Recalling a visit to his friend Darling in order to pick the interview recording, Colacello recalls that she “had the tape ready for me, neatly labeled in lavender ink.”

Today, there is no shortage of new performers to occupy New York’s blonde spot. Fittingly, on June 14, Anna Evans and Kayvon Zand, two of New York’s most remarkable blonde performers, will host a performance event called “Marilyn Is Dead!” Advertising the show as “dark burlesque” (including a drink special called “Hollywood Suicide”), the performance recalls the extent to which glamour has a shadowy underside. Ultimately, however, neither the Darling nor the Monroe stories should be read as tragic tales of doomed blondes. Their all too human vulnerabilities have accompanied them on their journeys to iconic status just as much as their striking looks. On the Clayton Gallery’s opening night, visitors saw a clear demonstration of this as twilight came. Jeff Illescas, a Gramercy Park hair stylist, showed visitors his two Candy Darling tattoos. What would compel him to obtain two tattoos in devotion to a blonde star? As he later told me, “Candy Darling is a personal hero of mine. I’m just glad that her spirit lives on. I wish I could tell her how much she means to me as a person but more importantly how beautiful she is. Candy Darling lives.”

Anna Evans and Kayvon Zand of the Zand Collective.

Victor P. Corona

Victor P. Corona. Victor P. Corona, Ph.D., (http://victorpcorona.com) is a sociologist at Columbia University, where he is finishing a book about New York nightlife. He lives in Manhattan. » See other writings

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