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For collectors of altered and advertising-geared Mona Lisas, the lure is all about kitsch and little about the small painting ensconced in a new multi-million dollar room in the Louvre that opened in 2003 in honor of the icon’s 500th birthday. Although Mona Lisa and Paris are intertwined like two twisted strands of DNA in a double helix, artists around the world have been reinventing her ever since Dadaist Marcel Duchamp took liberties with the painting by adding a moustache and goatee to the lady with the enigmatic smile.
Collaged Monas include Mona knitting, holding a cell phone, sipping a soda, dressed in a kimono, sharing a bicycle with Leonardo, wearing sunglasses that reflect the Pompidou Museum, and disguised as Mickey Mouse. Numerous songs, pictures, coffee mugs, advertisements, and food products feature Mona and, with the opening of the film The Da Vinci Code in May and the current Dada exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, this trend is likely to grow.
The website www.monalisamania.com receives 1.3 million hits a month, a figure that astounds Diane DeCillis, who launched it in 1999, and she claims it has “the largest selection of items featuring the most famous work of art in the world.” Among its offerings are a range of posters including “Whose Bet?” (Barry Kite) featuring five Monas playing cards, and “Mangia” and “Salute” (Aurelia Puskorius) that show her eating pasta and drinking a glass of red wine, respectively. DeCillis’ private collection includes a motorcycle jacket painted with a Mona image that she bought in Greenwich Village and an advertising apron made by Prego pasta sauce that shows a “normal” Mona and a fattened version, who presumably has eaten quantities of pasta with Prego sauce.
DeCillis, who is owner of The Print Gallery in Southfield, Michigan, says, “It doesn’t matter where you are from or what language you speak, we all share a universal language of art, and Mona is the incarnation of that.” The Print Gallery has sponsored ‘Mona Lisa Mania’ exhibits that featured artists painting Monas on automobiles with conventional paint, etching her image on the sidewalk with chalk, and recreating her with coffee, while sipping Da Vinci wine and listening to an Italian group singing “Mona Lisa.” Noticing that not much poetry had been written about the smiling charmer, DeCillis placed an ad in Poets and Writers magazine and published “Mona Poetica: A Poetry Anthology” that includes the work of Stephen Dunn, winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Edward Hersch, a Guggenheim Fellow, and many others.
Although the original Mona wears no jewelry at all, Sharon Simo came to the event with Mona earrings, bracelets, watches, a tie, and a purse with matching makeup bag and mirror. She brought DeCillis a gift of Argentinian postage stamps wrapped in tissue paper rubber-stamped with the appropriate image. Simo dabbled in collecting Monas for several years until she was given an assignment for a theater class that required her to act and speak as a piece of art. While portraying Mona with her torso, head, eyes, arms, and hands all facing in different directions (a style of painting known as contraposto that was developed by Da Vinci), Simo found the position very difficult to maintain. She decided the artist as having promised his model that if she just held the pose one minute more, he would make her the most looked-at woman of all time. “That’s what made her smile and why the world responded,” suggests Simo.
Simo’s house in Auburn Hills, MI, is crammed with a couple thousand variations on the Mona theme. Some pieces from her collection have been on display at the public library in Rochester Hills, Michigan, and will be displayed again in May at the library in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Friends and family members have gifted her with everything from mouse pads and rulers to clocks, banks, cookie jars, and T shirts embellished with Mona as a bird (“Leonardo da Finchi) and as a skeleton (“The Bona Lisa”). One of her favorite gifts is a pair of earrings with Mona portraits and Coca Cola bottles, aptly titled ‘Things Go Better with Mona.’ “They are so silly,” says Simo, whose most recent acquisition was an anniversary gift from her husband who won an eBay auction for a black glass Mona sink.
“I have many favorites; usually the tackier the better,” she says. “I have a ring/watch that is covered with rhinestones and opens to reveal Mona, an inflatable Mona, and a lot of naughty Monas that can’t go on display because of children.”
Although she has never seen the original Mona, Simo says she may own the “real” painting, explaining that there is some controversy as to whether the Louvre recovered the bona fide Da Vinci canvas after it was stolen in 1911. A friend of Simo’s discovered an oil painting of Mona in a secondhand trailer she had bought at police auction and sent it to Simo. The painting has the same dimensions as the Da Vinci portrait and is in a frame that her friend believes is about 100 years old and of Turkish origin, so Simo harbors the hope that she may indeed be living not only with thousands of reproduced Monas but also with the lady herself.
Move over, musée du Louvre.
Copyright © Joyce Baldwin