Curator, Anne Umland: This image was based on a pose, a photograph used for publicity purposes for the film Niagara in 1953.
When you look at it close up, there are all sorts of smudges, blurs, imperfections, that I think keep speaking to us of Marilyn lost to the world. Her image is no longer immediate. Her eyeshadow sorts of slides down a little bit into her eyes. The lipstick is a little bit off register. Everything is slipping, slipping away.
In other works, Warhol would use this same image of Marilyn. But this one is unique, the only one in the center of a glittery gold field, reminiscent of Byzantine Christian icon paintings. So here is Marilyn represented as an object of veneration, but of a very secular sort.
Warhol says there was no profound reason for doing a death series, just a surface reason. But then, of course, you want to know why did Warhol return again and again to the subject of death? When a person is commodified, there is a certain death of self involved there. With Warhol, there is always this darker side, as a countercurrent to the bright colors and the popular cheerful consumer imagery.