Can you hear me, Mona Lisa?
I am not sure I’d like to have a little chat with Mona Lisa or want her to wave out to me like some movie star. This is not about purity in art but about purity in ways of seeing. Rather than humanising, it becomes robotic.
Beijing’s Alive Gallery is doing just that. It has got a whole series of famous art works that move and talk. The Mona Lisa, for example, answers questions. In a video clip when asked if she was married, she says, yes, and her husband loves her very much. What next? “I just finished chopping onions” and the Chinese wizards will show a few tears? Or, will she explain her smile with an, “Oh, I was stifling a yawn”?
How is this interference in art any different from the Russian woman who hurled a ceramic cup at the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum? Here was real frustration because she had failed to obtain French nationality. Her rejection was what made her hit out at a truly prized work of art. Interestingly, the artist Leonardo da Vinci is not French, nor do any versions mention the model being one.
I see this as a wonderful clash of identities – Russian, French, Italian – and the attempt to be one. The sense of seeking a space. What is more valid? A mute work of art that earns billions of euros? Or a woman escaping a life she does not want?
The painting is behind a bullet-proof screen. How accessible is it, then? For all its peasant appeal, it has indeed become a distant figure of admiration. That was in all probability not the intention. While many works of art are analysed on the basis of skill, historical relevance and the ability to make a statement of sorts, the Mona Lisa – ‘la Gioconda’, the laughing one – has been personalised. The backdrop, her past, her relationship with the artist, her stance, her look, her smile. It is she who has become a benchmark for this sort of ‘seeing’.
She has survived so many interpretations and infringements that she has become A Thing. Of beauty? A joy forever?
Perhaps that Russian woman’s ceramic cup must one day be able to move and talk and speak of its experience at hitting her. Forever and beauty both hurt. Yet, I wouldn’t want her to move for a fraction of a second even to hear an anguished sigh or the swish of silk or wind in her face.