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Should we take down the Mona Lisa?

Jason Farago, art critc of The New York Times, raises the question

Should we take down the Mona Lisa? Jason Farago, art critc of The New York Times, raises the question

Few works in art history are as ignored as "The Wedding of Cana" at the Louvre. Hanging on the wall opposite that of the Mona Lisa, Paolo Veronese's masterpiece is the perfect victim of the charm of Leonardo's work. This monumental painting is the most striking case of great art overshadowed by the superficial fame of a work risen to the rank of icon, although no one really understands why. It’s from this reflection that the art critic Jason Farago, in his provocative New York Times article published on November 6th, entitled: "It's time to take down the Mona Lisa", starts his reflection.

Farago's opinion sounds radical, as are his tones, in defining Leonardo's picture: "a security hazard, an educational obstacle and not even a satisfying bucket-list item". He goes on to say that " she has become, in this age of mass tourism and digital narcissism, a black hole of anti-art who has turned the museum inside out". The critic then enumerates some data: he quotes the survey that names the Mona Lisa the most disappointing attraction in the world, talks about how much problems the tiny picture with its disproportionate following has created at the museum both logistically and culturally, given that its fame alone eclipses in the public eye the value of Europe's largest art collection.

As Farago points out, the most famous painting of our continent is not even observable up close: to look at it you have to stop at three and a half meters away to which is added a human barrier of tourists engaged to take selfies in front opera. The crowd that the Mona Lisa gathers, in fact, is now a calculated problem, almost a second frame of the picture, which however makes it paradoxically not visible, a bass drum that with the emptiness of its admiration raises a lot of noise, but does it for nothing. It is, in short, a case of fame generated by fame itself, a snake that bites its tail or, in Farago's words, "a 16th-century Kim Kardashian", capable of transforming the rest of the Louvre collection into "wallpaper".

The curator of the Louvre, Jean-Luc Martinez, has proposed purely logistical solutions, such as timed tickets and new entrances, but, as the Critic of the New York Times retorts: "The Louvre does not have an overcrowding problem per se. It has a Mona Lisa problem". The solution that is put forward in the article is much simpler: the disproportionate attention that the painting attracts deserves a space all for itself, separated from the rest of the museum, where the oceanic crowds of tourists of the Louvre (which have reached ten million a year) can head, so that the rest of the collection can emerge from its gigantic shadow. This idea is modelled on the case of Picasso's Guernica at Madrid's Reina Sofia, which has been given its own pavilion.

Jason Farago's article may seem too sharp, but it actually highlights a problem that all visitors to the museum and Paris in general experience. It’s commonplace, after having visited the Louvre, to say that the Mona Lisa is tiny, to ask rhetorically why it is so famous, to complain about the confusion and, in the age of Instagram, to photograph those who photograph the painting instead of the painting itself. Even more: the Mona Lisa has become a cliché, its iconicity diluted in a sea of graphic reproductions (not least the bag made by Jeff Koons for Louis Vuitton), all more or less kitsch, from magnets to t-shirts, from tote-bags to puzzles. The audience itself, admiring it, has trivialized it. And Duchamp, in one of his anarchic works, put the iconic state of the painting on his face, painting a mustache on his face. And so did other modern artists such as Warhol and Banksy.

Perhaps this is why Virgil Abloh, who in all his works as a designer and creative adds a vein of irony, has included the backlit version painting in his MARKERAD collection for Ikea. As Abloh said: "The goal is to ennoble the anonymous, iconic objects of everyday life that we use without noticing them." In the midst of these objects is the anonymous and iconic Mona Lisa, along with a carpet that reproduces a receipt, branded bed pillowcases and a clock with an empty dial. The painting becomes a variation on the theme of kitsch, which Eco defined as the deception of art, its empty imitation, bringing for example a reproduction of the Mona Lisa printed on fabrics and purses.

Enjoying art means, among other things, exercising one's critical spirit, not giving in to the fatuous call of fame, with the counterproductive effect of making the public only more insensitive and passive and flattening that great experience that is art, but actively research what excites us and affects our hearts and brains. Perhaps it would be useful to explore art with a more naive look, investigating alternative but equally important works and currents, such as those that hang throughout the rest of the Louvre. Perhaps it would be useful to visit the museum to live a personal, intimate experience and not only to feed the contents of our feed. Is this not the goal of all art? Just as the sun clouds the stars, so some too famous works can overshadow all others and it's fair to ask: is it time for the Mona Lisa’s sun to set?