Art and a Holiday Weekend in Palm Springs

I remember when I was a kid people talked about “low brow” art and “high brow” art. I thought about this today while in Palm Springs.  First we went to see the 25 foot Marilyn Monroe statue on the corner of Tahquitz Canyon  and N. Palm Canyon streets. There is a continuous line of people waiting to take their picture under Marilyn’s skirt and almost always one pose is looking up Marilyn’s skirt and mugging.

Marilyn Monroe by Seward Johnson
Marilyn Monroe by Seward Johnson

The sign for the statue says that Marilyn Monroe was “discovered” by an agent in Palm Springs and loved visiting with her second husband Joe DiMaggio.  She also owned a bungalow in the 1950s in Las Palmas. The sculpture is by Seward Johnson inspired by the famous photo from the film“Seven Year Itch”.

Yes, we can be tourists!
Yes, we can be tourists!

The sculpture was supposed to be temporary and the time in Palm Springs has been extended several times. It is hard to imagine how the Chamber of Commerce can let her go.  Palm Springs already has a walk of fame on the sidewalk with television and film professionals that have a connection to Palm Springs. We also sat beside Lucille Ball’s statue on a bench.  There are also multiple tributes to late-Sonny Bono, entertainer, mayor and congressman.

Then we turned our attention to the Palm Springs Art Museum just a block and a half from Marilyn.  It is a beautiful building tucked up against the mountains. We were keen to see the “George Caitlin’s American Buffalo” exhibition.  It was worth the $12.50 admission price. We were delighted at the anthropological-like precision of the paintings. It was also art–the horses looked afraid as they approached the buffalo in a hunt, and the white wolves looked ghost like.  George Caitlin was born in Pennsylvania and travelled to the prairie states in the late 1800s to capture the Indian way of life before it was destroyed by Europeans. Within about 20 years time, the 30 million buffalo were destroyed and with it the livelihood and spiritual connection for Crow, Blackfoot, and many other tribes.

Bull Buffalo by George Caitlin

As a bonus, we also gazed at the Richard Diebenkorn exhibit, “The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966.” We did not enjoy that as much as the buffalo, yet I could see the influence he must have had on Sacramento-area artists like Wayne Thieibaud and Greg Kondos.

My brother worked for a few years at the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum while he was getting his PhD, and I always found this small gem of a museum worth a stop.  Most visitors to Palm Springs probably are not aware that the town settled on lands occupied by the Cahuilla people.  They are known for their bird songs, which are not imitations of birds singing but ancient tales sung during community celebrations.  They still own and lease a lot of the land in Palm Springs and their economic tide has turned since the mid-1900s when they lived impoverished alongside movie stars.  The museum is right in the heart of downtown and a short walk from Marilyn and offers insight into this tribal community.

I enjoy Palm Springs, but I never think of it as a fun vacation destination. It has always been my brother’s neighborhood so I think of visiting my brother first, and then as a resort.  Watching people from the sidewalk table at Peabody’s on the main drag suggests that lots of couples and families enjoy a holiday weekend here.


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