Long ago I visited the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France. I spent the day walking its many rooms, studying with my artist’s eyes its astonishing art treasures. One such gem was the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci’s 16th century oil painting masterpiece. Her smile still beckons; currently some 30,000 people per day visit her Louvre exhibition room to gaze upon her. Fawning attention like this is bound to attract a miscreant or two, which is another aspect of The Mona Lisa Curse.
On May 29, 2022 one such reprobate, a 36-year-old man disguised as an elderly woman, visited the Mona Lisa. He modified his appearance by wearing lipstick, a shawl, and a brunette wig. I have to say it wasn’t much of a disguise, but then I’m always assuming the gender of individuals. At any rate “granny” topped off his charade by riding a wheelchair in the Louvre, likely in hopes of getting a handicapped only viewing position in front of the Mona Lisa. As you will see this unidentified rat-bag, aside from being an exploiter of the disabled, is also a vandal.
The museum’s huge crowds as well as the guards paid little attention to the character wheeling about, until he leapt from his wheelchair and punched the bullet proof glass that protected the Mona Lisa. Unable to break the glass, he pulled out a large chunk of frosted cake he had hidden in his clothing and hurled it at the barrier, smearing creamy white frosting across the heavy glass. Blessedly Leonardo’s painting was not harmed.
At that point the ne’er-do-well showed himself to be a climate change activist. He shouted in French: “Think about the Earth. There are people who are destroying the Earth. Think about it, all artists, think about the Earth, this is why I did this. Think about the planet!” Mr. Climate Change says he did it for the artists—but he’s just another wackadoodle. I have been thinking about the Earth, just not the way the cake throwing extremist would like me to. Louvre security escorted “grandma” out of the room and rightly sent him to a police psychiatric unit for evaluation. I hope a reproduction of the Mona Lisa hangs in his cell.
The vandal somehow imagined that by damaging Leonardo’s painting, people around the world would suddenly realize that climate change will extinguish all life on the planet in a few years. That realization would initiate a revolution to sweep away the evil oil barons, resulting in free electric cars for all.
Things didn’t play out exactly the way he dreamt. Greta Thunberg will have to settle for a publicity stunt that was nothing more than tossing a piece of cake at a beloved work of art—and missing the target. Talk about lousy performance art. Climate activists will no doubt distance themselves from their cake flinging comrade. Still, the stunt revealed “an inconvenient truth.”
That inconvenient truth tells us the Mona Lisa is part of human heritage, and the attempt to destroy the artwork should remind us of the ISIS terrorists, who use bombs and sledgehammers to smash priceless artworks and archaeological artifacts to smithereens. They do this because their Islamic fundamentalist viewpoint sees art as nothing more than sinful idolatry. I believe a new type of zealotry is behind the targeting of the Mona Lisa, it’s called environmentalist fundamentalism.
If activists deem the act of destroying art as an acceptable way to protest, they will soon advocate other forms of violence as appropriate. I really do fear that we have reached such a dangerous point. While I have always considered myself environmentally minded, I do not go along with destroying works of art, or annihilating people. In 1821 the German poet and writer Heinrich Heine put it another way when he wrote in his tragic play Almansor: “That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.”
The Mona Lisa has been physically attacked a number of times in the past; in 1956 someone tossed sulfuric acid on the masterwork, but thankfully the painting was saved. I won’t list the incidents of vandalism because to me the greatest affront was a philosophical razing given by none other than Andy Warhol. In 1963 the Louvre loaned the Mona Lisa to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art; it was the first exhibit of the painting in the United States. Over a million Americans came to see it, including the 35th President of the United States John F. Kennedy and the First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. When Warhol heard that Leonardo’s masterwork was coming to the US he said: “Why don’t they have someone copy it and send the copy, no one would know the difference.”
That cynical remark was a downgrading of skill-based realist painting and classical European art; it forced open the door to the postmodern lunacy and deadwood that today’s art world elites have hoisted upon the public. However, some six million people from around the world visit the Louvre each year to see Leonardo’s masterpiece. Realist art still matters to the public. The assault on the Mona Lisa was a despicable crime.