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Marilyn’s Bones

by Sean O'Toole / 05.07.2010

Celebrity is all surface, right? An exercise in fantasy where you get to project onto the mute canvas of someone else’s body. For the most part, yes. Some of us, it would seem, want more. More closeness, more depth, in other words, full penetration.

Ergo this statistic. Valued at between $800 – $1,200 (R6,115 – R9,173) before it went on sale, a set of three x-rays depicting actress Marilyn Monroe’s chest, made on a 1954 visit to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, sold for a record $45,000 (R344,000) last weekend. The sale, which took place in Los Angeles, was handled Julien’s Auctions, a specialist in entertainment memorabilia and high profile estate auctions.

Other big ticket sale items that found buyers included Christopher Reeves’ Superman VI costume ($32,500/R248,450) and a set of earrings worn by Rose DeWitt Bukater (aka Kate Winslet) in James Cameron’s leaden romantic epic, Titanic ($25,000/R191,000).

Of interest, the ghostly aesthetic of the x-ray has been co-opted by a number of photographers, notably the Englishman Nick Veasey who has x-ray photographed flowers, socks and aircraft hangers. X-ray photography is not to be confused with the aluminium sheen of the solarisation technique, made famous by Man Ray. In 2006, New York photography dealer Howard Greenberg paid £232,00 (R2,66 million) for a Man Ray rayograph depicting a light bulb.

Since we’re in the swampland of anecdote and random fact, it was Man Ray who once quipped, in 1966, a decade before his death: “Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how’, while others of a more curious nature will ask ‘why’. Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information.”

* Image Courtesy Julien’s Auctions.

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