By Laura Cottingham
“An earlier project by Brandt identifies him with another woman of beauty and talent (who suffered abuse and abandonment). In Marilyn & Me, even ongoing since 1999, comprised of short films, photographs and small sculptures, Brandt worked with the image and legacy of Marilyn Monroe to create a eulogy to the tragic star (with whom he had developed a melancholy identification as a teenager). The films feature short snippets of some of the actress’s performances. Please Don’t Kill Anything, 1999, highlights a scene from The Misfits where a horse (like Monroe, whose husband wrote the script) is captured. In Ghost, 1999, the actress is shown as she wobbles across the stage at Madison Square Garden to sing “Happy Birthday” to the president; her skirt is so tight around the ankles, it is as if her feet are bound. The digital history painting Brandt presents in these film shorts suggest that the life America gave Monroe was no better than the roles Hollywood gave her (and were often the same).
The titular work of Marilyn & Me is a self-portrait of the artist as Monroe (similar, but not identical, to the close-up Warhol used for his Marilyns). In another self-portrait, Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe & Peter Brandt, 2001, Brandt synthesized his Monroe fascination with Warhol’s and presents himself as Andy being Marilyn (something Warhol would have loved to do, but was too shy). To become Marilyn for Marilyn & Me, the artist used a wig, make-up, and necklace, a transformation Brandt hoped not just to achieve at the level of appearance but also on the level of feeling. His subsequent reflections indicate that he found some success: “One day I just had to know how it felt to be her that day at The Bell Air Hotel [sic]. I gazed into the camera and for a split of a second I was her. A moment of terrifying catalytic truth. I removed my make up and went out in the street. In a daze. It slowly dawned on me that I had touched a butterfly.”13
Comrades, 2002, another object in the Monroe group, is a small sculptural work composed of three rectangular glass baking dishes juxtaposed like a medieval altarpiece. Photographic icons rest in the bottom of each dish. The center dish is full of Brandt (as he appears in Marilyn & Me) and flanked, on the left, by a pin-up of Monroe holding an umbrella and, on the right, a selection from Wilke’s S.O.S. Starification Object Series, 1975. Wilke appears in Islamic headdress, her forehead and fingernails embellished with the signature vulvic forms she fashioned from chewing gums (and sought to ‘feminize’ the world with). These vulvic forms both decorate and scar her face. As Frueh observes: “ the ‘ornaments’ decorating Wilke in S.O.S. are not only scars but also stigmata, making the model woman into a martyr. Venus, the goddess of love and sex (neither of which Western culture reveres) must be crucified. The beautiful resemble other groups that are feared, envied and hated for the marks of their difference.”14
Comrades is the obvious link between the projects Marilyn & Me and Peter Super-T-Art. The former’s devotion to an actress belies Brandt’s interest and training in the performing arts and sets the stage for his approach to Wilke’s oeuvre. While the plastic arts are primarily concerned with form, the performing arts prioritize process, feeling and attitude: technique, in a performative sense, is as much about attitude as action (and result). It’s worth noting that Brandt’s work with Monroe includes depictions of himself transformed, with wigs and make-up, into a portrayal of the actress while his project with Wilke eschews any such literal manifestations and presents, instead, his intellectual and intuitive response toward specific art works. The most consistent parallel in iconography is the presentation of his body, a parallel that is not a parallel, given that Wilke’s body was female and his is not. Brandt explores what happens to our perception of the male body (and the political, emotional and social subjects it represents) when it is subjected to the kinds of representations previously reserved for the female. One of Wilke’s artistic goals was to assist in the breakdown of Western philosophy’s binary oppositions: between good/bad, male/female, self/other, Jew/gentile. Black/white. Brandt’s project continues this deconstructive process.” (Laura Cottingham, extract from The Other Venus – Hannah Wilke and Peter Brandt, in the catalogue Peter Super-T-Art, pages 43 – 46, 2007).
Marilyn & Me consists of photographs, objects, videos and text 1999 – 2004.