Curator's Choice: A pop art depiction of Marilyn Monroe with a hidden inscription at Tate Liverpool

| 15 August 2015 | Updated: 14 August 2015

Curator’s Choice: Darren Pih picks pop artist Pauline Boty’s The Only Blonde in the World (1963) at Tate Liverpool

A photo of a male curator, Darren Pih, looking at a painting of Marilyn Monroe on the gallery wall of Tate Liverpool
© Tate Liverpool, Laura Deveney
“When we were installing the work, we noticed that it had '80 Addison Road W14' inscribed on the brace on the reverse of the canvas – the address for Boty’s Notting Hill flat.

Boty's flatmates would have included Peter Blake and Derek Boshier, who were fellow art students at the Royal College of Art in London.

During the pop era, the liberal ethos of the Royal College helped ferment a newly democratised attitude that facilitated a convergence between high art and popular culture, encouraging painters to interact and fuse ideas with designers, graphic artists, musicians and stylists.

One of Boty’s flatmates was the textile designer Celia Birtwell and many scenes from Ken Russell's BBC film documentary 'Pop Goes the Easel' of 1962 were filmed at this address.

It’s a fantastic painting depicting Marilyn Monroe, posed between vibrant fields of bold colour and abstract form. Many pop artists were fascinated by Monroe, perhaps the most famous of Hollywood stars who epitomised the newly confident sexuality and glamour of the pop era.

Most responses to Monroe were made by male pop artists. Boty, however, was one of the few female artists working in this vein and perhaps that gave her a different view on the actress.

Is the figure isolated and constrained within the painted composition? Is the title ironic? There was a political aspect to Boty’s life and work, which often focused on themes of gender and female sexuality.

I think she was a proto-feminist of sorts and so it is ironic that she was herself often discussed in terms of her appearance.

Over recent years there have been a number of important institutional exhibitions offering a more nuanced and balanced account of international pop art, emphasising the contribution of female artists such as Pauline Boty.

We were delighted to install this painting at Tate Liverpool alongside works by Claes Oldenburg and Richard Hamilton, but also feminist artists from later generations such as Cindy Sherman and Birgit Jürgenssen, showing how artists have responded to the pervasive effect of mass media.

The exhibition groups together major works from the Tate collection to encourage the exploration of connections between them.

At the heart of each grouping is a ‘trigger’ work that has been selected to originate a variety of correspondences with modern and contemporary art.

The Only Blonde in the World 1963 forms part of the Cindy Sherman constellation.”

  • DLA Piper Series: Constellations is at Tate Liverpool until summer 2016. 

More Curator's Choices from Culture24

Pierre Huyghe’s One Million Kingdoms at Tate Liverpool

A strapless dress, a shark off the Cumbria coast and a beer barrel

Cathy Sloan on a three-metre high outdoor mural of Edward Elgar
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