Marilyn Monroe 22 by Andy Warhol is a screenprint from the artist’s Marilyn Monroe series published in 1967. This variation on Marilyn’s image is sometimes called the “red Marilyn” or the “purple-red Marilyn.” These works are some of Warhol’s most iconic and genre-defining creations. Just like his Campbell’s Soup Cans, the portfolio earned Andy his title as the pioneer of pop-art, and was greatly influential in the success of the new art movement. Marilyn Monroe depicts the actress bathed in vibrant hues and flat colors, a signature of Andy’s style and the Pop Art sensibility. The portfolio encapsulates his fascinations, and illustrates an intersection of American pop-culture, consumerism, and Andy’s obsessions with both mass-production and fame.
Originally, Warhol became inspired to paint Marilyn’s portrait after her tragic suicide in 1962. In the weeks following her death, he produced Marilyn Diptych, a diptych including fifty images of the actress, in fading colors and black and white. Though Andy’s experimentation with Marilyn first began as a memorial, he continued to reproduce her portrait many times in his life. Marilyn became the perfect muse for Warhol. As an icon of American entertainment, her life represented a sacred intersection of beauty, fame, and death.
Otherwise known for his obsessions with the modern miracles of the 20th century, such as mass-production, Warhol created hundreds of Marilyn prints. Dubbing his art studio “The Factory,” Warhol created a high volume of repetitive and iconic images. In the series, Warhol published the superstar like an object of consumption. He bathes her in varying colors. She is void of imperfections, and then repeated like a mechanically produced commodity. She seems to have shed her humanness. Warhol showcases her as an idea, not an individual.
Ultimately, Marilyn came to embody Hollywood culture and the potential success offered by the entertainment industry. Her life represents the American dream, and Warhol presented her as such. She thus becomes the 20th century ideal, and a hyperreal icon of the fame and luxury of American success. Warhol seemed to have great sensibilities for what attracted public attention, mainly focusing his work on hyper-visible objects and images. In this sense, Marilyn Monroe’s identity has become commodified. Her image and character were broadcasted across the world for the enjoyment of the public. Warhol sees her as a highly successful commercial product of the entertainment industry. Therefore, Warhol’s Marilyn images are not very different from his (re)productions of Campbell’s Soup or Kellog’s Corn Flakes: he is recreating a staple of the American imaginary, and reveals to the public the things that are truly reflective of his current historical moment.
For all of his portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Warhol used the same photo, a publicity shot taken by Gene Korman for Marilyn’s 1953 film Niagara. Reusing the same image multiple times eventually attracted controversy. Mainly, it sparked a conversation about how much an artist can reuse a symbol before it becomes a legal issue. The Marilyn images have thus gained some notoriety. Still, they were extremely successful upon release, and are some of his most famous works. Ultimately, Marilyn Monroe 22 is one of his most recognizable screen prints. The series helped Warhol reach the heights of the pop-art movement, and is a highly significant piece of art history.