PART I What can we agree is “the Mona Lisa”? It is an image: poplar bedaubed with pigmented oils; unseen by the public for 300 years, seen by relatively few for the next 150 years, seen since 1962 by mob scene . It is a concept: an assessment of reality supported by interpretation of the image. It is an icon: a world-wide conceptualization of high culture famous-for-being-famous.
I propose that the Mona Lisa is the figment of a collective imagination roiled by a quantum wave machine. Within the quantum wave many possible Monas exist. Without only one. Which one is determined by how the imaginative parameters have been set. Giorgio Vasari set them first, in 1550, with his Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori, but how many people could read back then? Edgar Quinet and Jules Michelet constructed a weir across the stream of collective consciousness to seine data points from the quantum wave to pre-fabricate a polemical Mona Lisa suitable for mid 19th century European geopolitics. Fin de siecle, Pater and Wilde, with experienced arrogance and purple prose, shaped that effulgent vulgarity into the Mona Lisa by describing their personal ruminations on the Mona Lisa concept rather than the Mona Lisa image. In doing so, they made the Mona Lisa image emotionally accessible to the masses and relevant to their times, i.e. they rendered actual art conceptual.
“She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire” . . . indeed.
In 1962, both the image and the concept of the Mona Lisa were taken to New York City to fulfill the promise extracted from Charles de Gaulle by Jacqueline Kennedy while on a state visit to Paris with her husband. When more than a million people waited hours for a seconds-long four-abreast walk past, apotheosis into celebrity icon happened. As if an emerging palimpsest, “to be able say you have seen the Mona Lisa” appeared on lists of things to do before you died. (I remember seeing Michelangelo’s Pieta for similar reasons and under similar conditions at the Vatican pavilion of the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Bathed in lurid blue light, it appeared green and conveyed “mould”.) . Billions of people who have never heard of Leonardo and will never go to Paris are familiar with the Mona Lisa. And so are all of us — despite Duchamp’s best efforts.
The recently late Robert Hughes maintained celebrity status as a universal icon deprives the Mona Lisa of meaningfulness. Art, in his opinion, convey a coherent feeling revealing viewers to different views. That requires subtlety in both domain and range. Pricelessness is the Mona Lisa’s current domain – transcendence is its range. Subtlety is not involved. The universal is the reciprocal of the subtle. To achieve universality, the gold foil of individual meaningfulness is beaten ever thinner until significant in the aggregate but not the particulate.
Is Duchamp’s Mona Lisa, parody, prophesy, pique, or passé? The price of perfection is parody. The Mona Lisa is the most parodied image in the world and as such rivals porn’s internet ubiquity. Also like porn, it runs the gamut from show your mother to gouge your eyes out. Each of these many is intentional if not effectual. Those that are both are bounty; their aesthetic concepts wait to be picked up by a complementary receptor. All pieces submitted to Cheryl Penn’s Mona Lisa Call fall into this category. Each artist altered “the Mona Lisa” to particularize its relevance to themselves. Their hope is that viewers will meaningfully experience relevance through their altered images.
Nine of the cards submitted to the Mona Lisa Call found a willing receptor in me. Something in the aesthetic of each gave me a context in which to maunder. Over here I saw Betty-Boop, and over there I saw where supermodels get their mojo, and it all made sense because I provided the relevance. Every viewer can do this to some degree with some image. That is the point. Art activates the viewer who in turn infuses art: all on a moving cakewalk of endorphins. And each time this happens a nanos-thin piece of meaningfulness falls to be gathered into ever larger aggregates. My re-contextualizations of these nine others’ work [The Cards on the Rack] attempt to increase the amount of meaningfulness and concentrate its fall. Meaningfulness is non-fungible. We want our Meaningfulness but not to have to run all over the place sweeping it up.
Each scrap of foil contributes to the Mona Lisa Rehab fund.
RCBz has created this gallery – its NOT the Dulwich Mona Gallery – I have to come up with another name 🙂 – Its an Ether Gallery for sure – whoever would have thought? This call has produced such wonderful work and RCBz has created a home for it – I am CHUFFED!!!
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