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Time to Take Down the Mona Lisa? (nytimes.com)
113 points by pseudolus 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 159 comments

This is such a peculiar, and I have to say, snobby, criticism - especially towards the last part of the article.

The Gioconda is too famous and doesn't deserve the crowd it gets? Maybe. Sounds like a subjective judgement.

People are left disappointed? Maybe. But anyone who does a 10 second search for "is mona lisa worth seeing" should already be aware of that. If they still choose to do that, why should we stop them? (or force them into an overly commercialized pen that deprives a piece of art of its dignity)

By all means, the Louvre should optimize the queuing experience. But as the author admitted, the Louvre doens't have a space capacity issue. And in my books anything that gets more people into a museum of any sort is a good thing.

Although I don't like the tone of the article, it does have a point.

Whether or not most of the Louvre visitors are there only for Mona Lisa, most will want to at least see it, whereas the rest of the museum is diverse enough to never be too crowded.

Moving that painting elsewhere would probably make it an immensely better experience for visitors who aren't coming for it. The entrance queues would not be that long, and past these queues, as long as you avoid that room the museum is more than large enough not to be crowded.

So let those who want to see the painting see it, and let those who want to the see the rest of the museum see it. People can do both of course, but there's no need to ask people who just want to see Mona Lisa to navigate the museum.

I'm surprised the Louvre hasn't done just that. Currently the Mona Lisa is pretty much in the middle of a section devoted to French and Italian paintings. Which makes sense, but doesn't work well in practice. The Mona Lisa crowds can get so big it's hard to even get a look at the other painting in the same room.

Move it to a separate room, install turnstiles that limit the amount of people in the room to something reasonable, and it will be a better experience for everyone. Even the people who are only there to take a picture of the Mona Lisa will be able to do it faster.

Many other museums seem better at limiting the amount of people near some attraction. To see Da Vinci's next most famous work, The Last Supper, you purchase a ticket that corresponds to a 15-minute slot. The Bust of Nefertiti, one of the most famous antique items, is kept in a separate room of the Neues Museum, with the staff not letting people in if it gets too crowded.

This sounds like a very sensible idea. Why not move it to its own area where the tourist crowds can have their selfies and, if they're done at that point, go do something else without clogging things up for the rest of the visitors?

From what little I've been exposed to about art management, it's also not great for the works in general to have crowds around them - aside from obvious things like people touching them, it puts an extra burden on the climate control system.

> it puts an extra burden on the climate control system

The Louvre doesn't have climate control throughout the compound. There's some sections that have it. But during August one should expect their visit to be fairly sweltering.

They could do what the UK does with the crown jewels and literally install a conveyor belt system that makes it nearly impossible to stand there for long periods of time.

Another option is to charge a dynamic fee to see the painting based on crowd size.

La Joconde has been at the Louvre since 1797. Since 1878, it has been displayed in the Salle des États - a room originally used by Napoleon III for legislative sessions. As you mention, the room hosts many Venetian works, and has been recently renovated to complement the paintings it showcases. For instance, the walls were painted a deep Prussian blue to contrast with the golden frames and highlight the vivid pigments typical of these works.

This legacy and continuity matter to the curators and art historians who maintain the museum.

As part of the renovations, the flow of the room was redesigned to accommodate for the fact that visitors spend more time in front of the Joconde (curators mention that a visitor spends on average 50 seconds looking at La Joconde, versus 4 seconds for other paintings).

The most amazing thing about the Mona Lisa to me was the rest of the room. It also wasn't that crowded (2009ish).

I was at the Louvre for the first time just a couple weeks ago. The Mona Lisa room was so crowded that I didn't bother lining up or looking at anything else in the room. Definitely a bad experience for people who don't like crowded museums.

"Liberty Leading the People" was near the Mona Lisa when I was there. It looks very drab on a computer screen but amazing in person.

It was in a different wing with other 19th century French art when I visited in 2016, but yes, it was huge, imposing, and very moving

Interesting, I was there in 2004 and it was ass to elbows and impossible to shove through to the next room. The paintings nearby were amazing though.

Might have something to do with economic cycles; 2004 was a better time in world economics then 2009.

It also might just have been lucky 15min for the first guy.

I'm not that familiar with museum design or their funding mechanisms, but for logistical purposes, sometimes if you want a lot of foot traffic in your building, you make people navigate around to see the "crown jewels" so-to-speak which forces/exposes them to other items of interest you want to "sell" (taxpayers, government, private market...).

If you need to count beans for some government funding agency to justify your budget, this is a way to inflate bean count and prop up underperforming aspects. As long as it's a situation that isn't incredibly wasteful and done in good taste, I support it--though this is of course highly subjective.

If you break that number up so it's easier to see why people visit (e.g., separating the Mona Lisa), it may inadvertantly give justification to cut funding to the other aspects in many modern mindsets. Mixing the artworks up artificially inflates other works foot traffic that, I would argue, is a positive form of trickery for society (preservation and education of the arts, something important and often underfunded).

Museums that attract a lot of tourists are geared towards moving people in and out as fast as possible. The longer they are in the house the fewer tickets you can sell.

Sounds like putting milk at the back of the store.

Milk is in the back because they have to maintain the cold chain, and the refrigeration is in the back. Putting it anywhere else risks spoilage if a pallet takes too long to unload or gets left unattended.

Try shopping in the UK.

None of the big 4 supermarkets near me have milk at the back. In fact IIRC they are all in the middle of the store.

Well, they're missing out on some opportunities to keep their products cold from production to purchase.

There's definitely a lot of dripping condescension in that piece. That said, yeah, I think it's substantially correct. If the Mona Lisa is going to attract such outsized crowds--and, in my experience, they are outsized compared to a work of art in any other museum I've been to--you'd do both the art and the crowds a favor by separating it and putting it in an environment to optimize viewing and provide context/educational background.

Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam did just that. There is a 'tourist path' where all the must-see famous works are shown, predictably, everybody goes by in single file so they can put a checkmark on their instagram account or whatever they use to show they've 'been there'. And then there is a huge collection of lesser known but worthwhile works in the rest of the museum. And - unfortunately - vaults full of art that likely will not see the light of day for a very long time because of lack of exposition space.

> And - unfortunately - vaults full of art that likely will not see the light of day for a very long time because of lack of exposition space.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna currently has an exhibition on called Spitzmaus Mummy in a Coffin and other Treasures, by Wes Anderson and Juman Malouf. Neither of them are museum professionals, so their choices of which objects to display and how to arrange them differ quite notably from what one might normally see in the museum, even though they're drawn from the same collection. I found it a very interesting and enjoying experience.


EDIT: I misread the dates; the exhibition has moved to Milan.

Ironically, this would be elevating the status of the Mona Lisa by giving its own museum. Sometimes you have to do nonsensical things to achieve logical goals.

They should put it behind a giant lens, and blow it up 5x.

The article is sort of a whine even if I also sort of agree with it. The crush around the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, a museum with so many great works of art, is really a bit silly. And, if the Mona Lisa weren't famous in no small part for being famous (and, admittedly, for being one of a relatively modest number of works by Da Vinci), it's unlikely that most people would give the small portrait a second glance.

Now, knowing it's famous, one can appreciate some of the justification for it. But it still wouldn't make at least my list of favorite paintings.

I have the feeling a lot of people go visit a popular thing just because they know it's popular, and not for its actual art, meaning, experience or whatever.

I actually tend to avoid the most crowded attractions. Been to Paris several times, but never been to the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre (but the Arc de Triomphe and the Montmartre are cool places to visit).

FWIW, the Eiffel Tower is cool as hell up close. I find it really neat to be able to see the structure of a fairly large building up close. TBH I was more "disappointed" by the Arc de Triomphe.

I've always deliberately avoided the Eiffel Tower myself. The Louvre is very much worth visiting even if it's largely frozen in time and the most exquisite works are sort of overwhelmed by the vast numbers of technically excellent but IMO often not terribly interesting paintings. (How many Renaissance Madonna and Childs can you look at in a day?) TBH, a more curated Louvre would be a more interesting museum.

That said, if I'm having to choose, I'm probably going to the Musee d'Orsay rather than the Louvre.

Exactly! That's why I use Haskell instead of JavaScript, and Arch Linux instead of MacOS. Those other things are too popular and people use them without understanding the real _meaning_ of Computer Science.

And I can appreciate that even when it's not my favorite, it can still be beautiful.

The fact is, as an artist, it's hard not to look at paintings by Picasso or Van Gogh and think, "Wow, they had such a big impact on me. I wanted to be like that."

That's part of the magic of the artist's brush — that it can so easily and effortlessly paint such a dramatic scene that you, the viewer, think you can be the same person as the artist.

As an artist, I'm very aware of how big the influence of an artist is. And as an individual, I'm extremely aware of how much an artist can influence me. That's why I'm very interested in people who can have the biggest impact on other people through their art.

I've never in my life searched for "is X worth seeing", the thought hasn't even crossed my mind. That is maybe not very smart, but before I see it I can't decide it, why would I trust random strangers on the internet? :)

Do you also ignore reviews on Amazon etc. because why trust random strangers on the internet?

"Is X worth seeing" is essentially searching for reviews of an experience.

No I ignore reviews on Amazon etc. because why trust random BOTs and paid reviewers on the internet.

Because there's not many other choices, and the other choices are way more work. And because as a general guide they seem to work pretty well, especially if you read through them with some small amount of care.

Is the popeye's chicken sandwich worth waiting for?

Yes. They're amazing.

> But as the author admitted, the Louvre doens't have a space capacity issue. And in my books anything that gets more people into a museum of any sort is a good thing.

They really need to do the grocery store thing and make you walk past everything in the museum before letting you into the Mona Lisa at the far back.

They pretty much already do this. The end result is tourists literally running to the room the Mona Lisa is in once they get inside the museum. It's madness.

In the era of the Internet, you don't even have to look up "is mona lisa worth seeing". Just by looking up "mona lisa" you can see what the painting looks like. Voilà.

On the other hand just the fact that most people who go there to see it take pictures of it with their mobile phones means that they don't even go to the Louvre to see it, they just want to show others they've seen it.

Or maybe they want to do both.


It's in poor taste to superciliously diss the community while participating in it. Since you're posting here, you're as much "HN" as anyone else is.


I wouldn’t want to be part of any community that would have me as a member.

The Mona Lisa is the leader product for the Louvre, which is, btw, a public entity whose goal is to educate. Bring the tourists for the Mona Lisa (also very well known to a smaller extent are the David, the Venus of Milo and Samothrace Victory) and then they still are in one of the largest museum of the world, with many things to discover.

When I brought in my teenager niece, 16, she did not know what to expect, but WANTED to see the Mona Lisa, despite my warnings it was really underwhelming, but she wanted her selfie.

And then she marveled for the rest of the day in the middle of the antiquities and learned about civilization she had not even heard the name before.

Many years ago, my partner and I took our 7 year old daughter to the Louvre as we were in Paris anyway. Expecting her to get bored we planned on a couple of hours inside in the morning, and then move on to somewhere else...

8 hours later, and one unexpected lunch in the Louvre's restaurant, we literally had to drag her out, as despite having seen so much of the museum, she still wanted to see more. Even to this day she remembers it very fondly. We did see the Mona Lisa. It's surprising how small it actually is in person. Luckily we weren't there during peak tourist season so it wasn't the chaos that the pictures in the article depict.

My daughter went on to develop a deep love of history, and has just graduated from a top tier UK university with a Honours degree in Ancient History. Her love of museums never abated either.

If you have kids, take them to museums - it will always pay off.

I think VR tech can have this profound effect in history knowledge. Assassin's creed games seem to have already interested thousands of people in its historical settings.

Age of empires (original and rise of Rome) grew a deep interest in ancient cultures, particular the non-Roman empires. I played the game primarily for the competitive multiplayer. But the ancient cultures and way of life (and war) inspired the imagination. I still find ancient history the most interesting period.

There is a French startup called Opuscope (Minsar) which is producing AR & VR experience with various museum. I don't know how they're advancing because the founder don't speak to me anymore but the company seems doing well.

I think it's reasonable to create a separate room for the mona lisa and establish a digital queue system where people sign up for a specific period of time to visit the Mona Lisa. That would solve all of the author's issues and still give you all the benefits your niece gained.

Similar issues exist for major paintings across the world. Not a big problem to spend too much collective brain power on though.

the David is in Florence, Italy. But other than that, I agree with your comment.

Three of them, in fact. The original in Galleria della Accademia; the (marble? plaster?) copy in front of Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria; and the (bronze?) copy in Piazzale Michelangelo.

I learned this the hard way when I was going to meet a friend there. Neither of us were locals, so we wanted to choose an unambiguous place to meet. What could be more iconic than "let's meet by the David"? Hilarity ensued.

Ah? I have a vivid memory of seeing it in the Louvre but you are right, it seems to have never been there. The tricks of memory some time...

I think he meant this painting by a painter whose last name is David.


Pretty sure he did mean the statue given the context. Jacques-Louis David is a well-known French painter and there are works of his in the Louvre. (Some of which are monumental in size; I forget what all by him is in the Louvre.) But the average Louvre visitor probably has never heard of him--especially if they aren't French--and I doubt he's a big draw in general.

Yes I meant the statue. I had memories of seeing it there as a kid, but I think I am confusing with other sculptures.

Saw that one when we were in louvre. It is so good you have to sit there and just look at it for a while.

That looks like amazing work.

But I'm at an age and temperament, where I no longer want to idolize the rich and powerful. Its just a shame that such talent went to aggrandize rich white folk with life-and-death power over millions, because of an accident of birth.

Here's a powerful painting, worth a long look:


Also, that painting you linked to as being "powerful" was painted by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. He painted in the style of Italian Renaissance painters, though he's French and lived in the mid-1800's. I guess that's cultural appropriation. He also married one of his students, which of course is a big no-no nowadays, since he was a man in power over her. Looks like you can't like this painting any more now.

You see how dumb it is to apply 2019 political correctness to past history?

I actually complimented the painting.

Its revealing how much backlash my personal choice of art and whom to admire, has triggered.

Please don't post in the flamewar style to HN.

Napoleon Bonaparte wasn't emperor by accident of birth. He was emperor because he was the most brilliant general of his era, perhaps in all of history, as well as a clever politician and an extremely charismatic person, and he lived in a rare moment in history when someone could rise to the top from nothing.

And what's the point of pointing out that he was white? Almost everyone in France was back then. You're projecting modern American politics back into an era in history that was very different. As a Corsican, Napoleon actually had to deal with a fair bit of prejudice.

> from nothing

Father: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlo_Bonaparte

Grand-father: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giuseppe_Maria_Buonaparte

Aristocrat family: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobile_(aristocracy)

Not exactly nothing. It is interesting to muse about a nobody becoming the Emperor of the French, I'll grant that.

Penniless minor nobility from Corsica was pretty close to nothing in France back then.

"Nothing" is precisely that: a social non-entity. A member of a minor nobility family, regardless of their financial situation, belongs to a distinct social class, with attendant benefits such as social contacts, etc.

How did the nothing son of a poor man end up in Royal Academy? Who were his classmates? What social class did his classmates belong to?



"Thanks to documents proving his family's nobility, Charles Bonaparte was able to send his son Napoleon Bonaparte to one of the twelve military schools created by Louis XVI, reserved for young nobles."

Do obvious (and universal) social matters such as this really require debate?

> A member of a minor nobility family, regardless of their financial situation, belongs to a distinct social class

Not one which would ever have been able to rise very high under the ancien régime. Minor, impoverished nobility from Corsica (then a backwater in France) were not in line for the throne. As a Corsican, he was barely even considered French (and spoke the language poorly when he was young). The fact that someone from such a lowly social station would be able to rise to be the head of state was astonishing. It would have been completely impossible, of course, without the Revolution, and for someone without great ability.

Napoleon wasn't a peasant, but he wasn't anywhere near the ruling social class - which is what the GP implied when they said they weren't interested in "white folk with life-and-death power over millions, because of an accident of birth." Although, in one sense, I could grant that Napoleon did come to power due to accident of birth - the accident of being born shortly before the Revolution, and perfectly the right age to rise through the ranks of the military during the Revolution, and then take power just as the Directorate was becoming unpopular. If he had been born 10 years earlier or later, that would have been impossible. But nevertheless, without also being possibly the greatest general in history and extremely charismatic, he wouldn't have come to power.

He was, imo clearly, a very capable and intelligent man.

But sans his education, exposure to an exclusive social tier, and thus his subsequent study at École Militaire, and finally being commissioned as an officer, he would not have had the opportunity to shine.

So the point is, if he were indeed a "nothing", regardless of his substantial qualities, you and I would not be discussing him couple hundred years later on hacker news.

> what the GP implied

I am very clearly focused on the notion of "nothing". Per my reading of history, almost all of the major spiritual and secular figures in history, regardless of period or locale, belonged to (or were closely attached) to the upper classes.

> I am very clearly focused on the notion of "nothing".

You're taking "nothing" very literally. My point was that he was not born into the crown, and that based on his birth, he could never have hoped to wield much of any political power, had it not been for the Revolution.

> an exclusive social tier

It wasn't nearly as exclusive as you're making it out to be. There were hundreds of thousands of people with higher social rank than Napoleon.

> his subsequent study at École Militaire, and finally being commissioned as an officer, he would not have had the opportunity to shine

That's probably true, but not because studying at the military academy at Brienne was anything particularly prestigious. It's because the Republic was in desperate need of competent officers and under extreme military pressure, so people from fairly low social stations and with little military training were being put in command of significant forces. Lots of people from outside the ruling class rose to high stations during this time. Napoleon was simply the most extreme example, because of the seeming military miracles he pulled off and a great deal of political shrewdness.

What you're arguing is a bit like saying that Albert Einstein was just lucky to be born to a family that could afford tutors. But being born to decent circumstances were just the beginning, and the vast majority of people born to those circumstances go nowhere near as far as Einstein did. Napoleon wouldn't have been who he was had he been born a serf. But he was also probably the greatest military mind in history, and without that we wouldn't be talking about him here.

> almost all of the major spiritual and secular figures in history, regardless of period or locale, belonged to (or were closely attached) to the upper classes.

I don't think that's true at all of the era we're discussing. The people who rose to prominence in France during the Revolution tended to be decidedly middle-class: lawyers, penniless minor nobility, journalists, army engineers, minor clergy, and so on.

From your first link about Napoleon’s father:

> Carlo Buonaparte died on 24 February 1785, and, due to his frivolous spending, left his surviving wife and eight children penniless.

Why be a racist about it? Would you have been happier if it was a painting of a Chinese emperor?


If you don't call white a "race", what do you call it? An ethnicity?


Please don't post in the flamewar style to HN. This comment breaks many of the site guidelines. Would you please read https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and stick to the rules when commenting here?

Yes its a pretty picture, I get it, I know what its about.

Rich folk like them, of course, deserve worship because of what they are (better than everybody else).

So what? The accident that some folk got to run roughshod over everybody else is quite an un-American viewpoint (we abolished the monarchy here). I understand if others still ascribe to these antique notions. I just have decided, after decades of being drenched in rich-and-powerful hero-worship in media and art, that I would opt out.

Keep all the superior feelings to yourself, thank you. I have none. Kind of my whole point.

(not the person you respond to)

I get your feeling, but that's a mistake to placate it on that painting. Napoleon probably abolished more monarchies than anyone else in Europe.

The moment it captures is when Napoleon (who took power, he was not born into it) broke the supremacy of the church over European leaders. A definite moment for secularism.

It does mimic the crowning ceremony of kings, but it actually breaks the supremacy of the church.

Whitewashing Napoleon, another power-hungry European absolute dictator who killed thousands, is disingenuous. He took the thrones of those he deposed. Not a hero.

Beethoven agrees with you.

So do you just close your eyes and ears and pretend history never happened, since history is mostly about rich and powerful people? Is looking at history through the "woke" sunglasses of 2019 even enjoyable? You pass judgement on an artist who painted an event 200+ years ago using 2019's latest politically correct talking points.

Only the trolls are judging. I'm just now select people of the time to study, and admire art about them. I quit obsessing over the rich and powerful.

All this angst over what I choose to admire and study is curious. A powerful emotion was triggered by my decision, I can see that. It says more about the trolls than about me, for sure.

Your comment may not have been intentionally trolling but its content was trollish and provoked predictable effects. Please don't post like that to HN, or like these follow-ups, which just keep the flamewar going.


rzmnzm 11 days ago [flagged]

The emotions are being triggered by you making racist comments

The author, as most people speaking about the Mona Lisa, neglects to mention why she is so popular.

It's not actually because the painting is such a tremendous masterpiece. In 1911 it was was largely unknown.

But that year it was stolen by Vincenzo Peruggia. The theft and subsequent recovery two years later received a lot of media attention around the world.

Leading to the current immense popularity.

Otherwise... yes. The hordes of tourists amassing before the Mona Lisa, who then stare at the painting for two or three minutes while trying to get a good look through the amassed crowd, is not a benefit for anyone. Except for the ticket revenue.

But then again, Louvre is huge, so it really doesn't matter much. You really don't notice when exploring other parts.

The reason the Mona Lisa is so famous is because Vasari waxes serious lyrical about it in his Lives of the Artists (published in 1550). Here's what he says about it:

"Anyone wishing to see the degree to which art could imitate nature could readily perceive this from the head; since therein are counterfeited all those minutenesses that with subtlety are able to be painted: seeing that the eyes had that lustre and moistness which are always seen in the living creature, and around them were the lashes and all those rosy and pearly tints that demand the greatest delicacy of execution. The eyebrows, through his having shown the manner in which the hairs spring from the flesh, here more close and here more scanty, and curve according to the pores of the flesh, could not be more natural. The nose, with its beautiful nostrils, rosy and tender, appeared to be alive. The mouth with its opening, and with its ends united by the red of the lips to the flesh-tints of the face, seemed, in truth, to be not colours but flesh. In the pit of the throat, if one gazed upon it intently, could be seen the beating of the pulse: and indeed it may be said that it was painted in such a manner as to make every brave artificer, be he who he may, tremble and lose courage. He employed also this device: Mona Lisa being very beautiful, while he was painting her portrait, he retained those who played or sang, and continually jested, who would make her to remain merry, in order to take away that melancholy which painters are often wont to give to their portraits. And in this work of Leonardo there was a smile so pleasing, that it was a thing more divine than human to behold, and it was held to be something marvelous, in that it was not other than alive."

> The eyebrows, through his having shown the manner in which the hairs spring from the flesh, here more close and here more scanty, and curve according to the pores of the flesh, could not be more natural.

This is quite interesting, because (currently at least) she doesn't have eyebrows!

The Louvre’s Mona Lisa is in shitty condition and poorly preserved. The Prado’s Mona Lisa is thought to be the earliest replica of the original, and has been masterfully restored. There’s no question the La Gioconda has eyebrows (that match the above description) there.

While the background of Prado’s copy was blacked out in the 1700s prior to its restoration this past decade, the foreground was largely untouched.


Arguably, the Pardo Mona Lisa was painted in parallel and shouldn't be considered a mere copy. And it's probably the better painting.

I share that opinion and wholeheartedly agree, but I refrained for fear of controversy derailing the point. If it were "merely" a very early replica that was infinitely better preserved, it would still be of better historical record value.

The Mona Lisa was heavily damaged and a lot of the lighter sfumato disappeared when the upper layers where smeared.

The Prado one in Madrid is much better in my opinion.

Since when she is popular in no small part because she is popular. Also known as the front page effect - whether you envisage newspapers or HN. :)

The original Kardashian?

If I recall correctly, the Mona Lisa and its room at the Louvre feature prominently in The Da Vinci Code, a hugely popular book and movie.

Hmm...wasn't it also Leonardo's favorite painting? I heard he carried it with him everywhere he traveled.

Yes, and he in his last years would come back to it and retouch with a few strokes here and there, at least according to Isaacson’s biography. But Isaacson I think says it’s because Leonardo knew it was a good piece of painting and never really wanted to part ways with it.

"Some 80 percent of visitors, according to the Louvre’s research, are here for the Mona Lisa — and most of them leave unhappy."

Well, screw them? The Louvre museum is a pure marvel content-wise with 40k objects showing what is Culture from prehistory to today, right in the center of Paris, over 70k square meters.

If people go only there to see Mona Lisa instead of checking the Sculpture department too after having read about it online, they kinda deserve to take a shitty selfie and complain about the size of the La Gioconda instead of getting the pleasure of visiting a gigantic place offering pieces of art made over many millennia.

The Louvre has astonishing content, but does a terrible job of telling stories. It's not so much a museum as a trophy case: "Look at all the fabulous art we collected when we were rich." Why this art? Why do these pieces go together? None of those questions have an answer. The walls are just covered in art.

Taking down the Mona Lisa isn't the answer to that. The answer is to give the public a reason to look at the pieces leading up to it, and the pieces around it. Tours are one way to get that, but explanatory placards could do it. Take the visitors through a story, any story. Chronological, by artist, by subject, by method of acquisition -- any is better than just "a bunch of paintings on walls". The latter may appeal to people who have the experience to tell their own stories, but the general public doesn't learn anything from the museums except "I don't know why that piece is so famous".

The Musee d'Orsay across the river does exactly that. It's a more modern museum, built around telling stories rather than displaying prizes. The Louvre is a relic of the power of French kings and emperors and the subsequent attempts to share their acquisitions with the public. It's even more glaring with the historic objects, which are relics of colonialism rather than telling the stories of the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and other cultures who produced them.

Telling people that "I stood in line for 30 minutes to see the Mona Lisa which was (a) the most amazing painting I've seen, or (b) like a foot high and worse than Sunday cartoon art" ... either way, the name drop and story are worth a 30 minute wait.

Every 90 minutes of basic cable TV you wait through 30 minutes of ads, and you don't get to say you saw the Mona Lisa for your trouble.

> Well, screw them?

Yeah, but the experience would also be much more pleasant for the museum's other patrons if the Mona Lisa were elsewhere. And the Louvre would make more money by opening a whole new location with a massive visitor count guaranteed, although they would have a significant investment to recoup. Moving the painting helps all involved.

True, I always thought that having Mona Lisa being part of something bigger was motivating people to check out the rest of the museum but according to the article this is not correct.

The motivation is to check off items on the "Top 10 Things To Do In Paris" list, get a few selfies to prove to peer that they've been there, and move on. If the crowds at museums and galleries hosting tourist traps such as the Mona Lisa were indicative of people's interest in art & history, documentaries on the same wouldn't be the virtually niche product that they are today.

This is reflection on modern tourism, which has changed due to digital.

I visited Louvre in September just before the painting moved. Queues were several floors long, complete with videographers following brides around to get the right shot, others having gimballed footage of every moment.

The pure embarrassment to see the line finally break after two hours of queuing to rush forward, to gain that extra half metre closer, and snap snap snap... no interest in looking at the painting but a torrent of pictures/video with quick reviews to improve shots before being told NO MORE by an exasperated staffer to then rinse and repeat.

Do you actually see the Mona Lisa if there is no stabilised moody video of you pondering to prove it?

It's a painting. I am sure they managed to both look at it and take recordings of it. No need to worry or be embarrassed about other people enjoying something in a slightly different way than you intend to.

Odd isn't it? Maybe it's because we (who? Under-50s?) grew up watching a glowing rectangle and having our emotions be controlled by TV shows making us laugh and cry...

Or well, the simpler explanation is a picture will help you remember the place and the associated emotions, but a video is even more immersive.

I went to the Louvre in April and I came away with the impression that the Mona Lisa was the only painting that is better in photographs then in real life. The hall was packed with people, most of whom had literally walked past 2 other Di-Vinci masterpieces hanging nearby. I can see why the Mona Lisa was voted the most disappointing attraction in the world! The other piece in the museum that is famous for being famous, the Venus de Milo , was similarly surrounded by artwork of a similar level (at least to my untrained eye), also being mostly ignored by the crowds. The Louvre, however, is an excellent place to visit if you avoid the crowds.

I think Capella Sistina has the same problem

Emphatic yes. I visited there back in the 1980s, and the crowds were overwhelming. It was such a noisy, claustrophobic experience that I had to get out of there. I pretty much fled through the rest of the Vatican museum without really seeing a thing. Can't begin to imagine what it is like now.

Unless they've changed things for the worse, this is nonsense. I visited the Louvre about five years ago and found:

* The ML (Mona Lisa) is put in its own room, surrounded by a bunch of not very remarkable paintings that would not lose out to being ignored by tourists focusing on the Mona Lisa.

* You can get to the ML fairly efficiently from the main entrance. If that is all you want to see, it's not a very big problem because:

* The Louvre is VAST. 99.99% of it is not the ML and probably around 90% of it does not suffer from being in the same very, very large building as the ML. You can have a very fulfilling visit to the Louvre and never get anywhere near the thing (or the queues leading up to it).

Also, the common trope that the ML is not actually an interesting painting is nonsense as well. It's a perfectly charming little painting and if you make sure you enter the museum early enough you can get close enough to enjoy it.

My 2 cents. That hinge on the Louvre not having significantly changed things for the worse recently.

> This past summer, amid 100-degree-plus heat, the Louvre undertook a renovation of the Mona Lisa’s gallery

From the article.

Right. Should’ve said “unless they've significantly changed things for the worse”.

I doubt they have now:

* Surrounded the ML with other masterpieces

* Placed it in a room that’s only accessible by going through each other room in the Louvre and significantly disturbing the people that want to view the other masterpieces on display

Unless, of course, they made the Louvre smaller.

The premise of he article is just wrong. If you must view the Mona Lisa, a very pretty picture, btw, you can. Just come early. If you want to see something else in the Louvre - and there is plenty of choice - you can as well.

IDK, it's like Twilight books: sure they're way more popular than they deserve, but if it gets people reading... if Mona Lisa gets people in the door, then that's great.

Anyway, once you look at the Mona Lisa and are annoyed by the crowds, a literally 180 and you're faced with amazing artwork that, because everyone in that room is there to see the Mona Lisa, you can look at unmolested.

(at least when I there last, it may have been moved / rearranged).

Visited the Louvre 12 years ago, and even back then it was bad. You had to fight your way to the front to even get a glimpse of the painting. And indeed, it is disappointing and an overall unpleasant experience. I am not ashamed to say that I have never even remotely understood the hype around this particular painting. Just compare it with Da Vinci's Madonna of the Yarnwinder [0] - I find it to be vastly superior to the Mona Lisa.

If you visit the Louvre, just stay out of the room the Mona Lisa is in.

[0] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/73/Ma...

I think there's value in it being a disappointing experience as a learning opportunity. Might encourage people to think about what makes something famous, what draws crowds, hype and substance, etc. And hopefully people spread out afterwards and see surrounding pieces (I liked the Charles Le Brun pieces that were, at some point, in a large gallery near the Mona Lisa crowds).

Lady with an Ermine is in my opinion much more interesting that the Mona Lisa.

It is also in better condition.


It's frustrating that this painting dominates the salle des états.

Last time I was there in 2004 (the pre-selfie days) I sat in front of the stunning Ghirlandaio they have there for a long time. (He taught Michelangelo how to paint.)

Now if I went today, I don't think I could even get in front of it.

It's time to take down the Statue of Liberty, it is a security hazard, an educational obstacle and not even a satisfying bucket-list item. It’s time New York moved it out of the way.

I'd just like to point out how ridiculous of a request it is to ask a gallery to take down the piece it is best known for, and which in addition is a source of national pride.

Not only is it not in the best interest of the Louvre to take it down, nor is it for the city of Paris or the country of France.

The suggestion is to move it to its own pavilion, still in central Paris, highly commercialised and optimized for large crowds.

The article argues that this would be better for everyone: the art enthusiasts who want to enjoy the museum and the box-tickers who are only there to see its most famous attraction, as well as being financially viable.

Not addressed is the argument that some people might come for the Mona Lisa and stay for the rest of the museum, and gain a better appreciation of art that way. The author likely thinks that doesn't happen or isn't important.

The English do a good job with the crown jewels. You get on a moving walkway and stream by slowly and up close. If you want to spend more time looking, there's a raised platform behind the walkway where you can spend time.

There is precedent for it, although more typically for larger format works. As the article notes, Guernica used to be in its pavilion. In addition, in Paris, L'Orangerie is largely built around Monet's Water Lilys Cycle. (There are also other impressionist paintings downstairs--closed at the moment--but it's the big Monets people come to the museum for.)

Yes, I'm quite offended a foreign newspaper tell us what we should do with our pieces of art in our museums. It just smells jealousy to be honest.

But the Gioconda is Italian

And the Statue of Liberty is French.

The Prado in Madrid has a copy of the Mona Lisa, probably painted in the same studio at the same time, that is nicely restored and vibrant. Hardly anyone was looking at it when I was there.

I wish the Mona Lisa would be restored too. The brown color is probably due to oxidized varnish and not the paint itself and I don't think it has any particular value, to the contrary.

It's a bit underwhelming in person TBH.

There's nothing about it that's better in person than looking at a high res picture of it.

The sculptures at the Louvre, however are astounding. You can't see just how good the artistic interpretation of musculature and sense of motion the statues have from photos, because (a bit obvious in retrospect) 2D photos don't represent 3D lights and shadows well.

The Venus is excellent, but the bronze garden elsewhere in Paris with The Thinker (not my favorite at the garden either) is something you can just feel.

The Rodin Museum. BTW, anyone here who lives in the Bay Area should go to see the Rodins at Stanford. That museum is arguably the equal of the one in Paris.

You can't even get that close to the Mona Lisa, even without a crowd, there's a 4-6 foot cordoned off area in front of it if memory serves.

It's only 30" by 21".

And again, you can get within a foot of the 83" tall Venus.

You can touch the glass in front of the starry night at the MoMA, you can actually see the delicate brushwork.

Mona, not so much.

The NY Times comes across as snobby for trying to suggest which art should or should not be popular. Who are critics to decide what music (i.e. Kayne’s latest) or cinema we should want to watch.

Even the Beatles had to stop playing live at some point because it wasn’t any fun for them anymore — they couldn’t hear anything over the crowds.

This reminds me a lot of the entertaining piece written by Maddox about taking pictures of the Mona Lisa. http://thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=padhole

It's impossible to observe, appreciate, study, or learn anything useful from the Mona Lisa when you're over 12 feet away in a sea of bodies. I thoroughly agree with this article, and I'd go even further. I've pretty much stopped going to popular museums because they are simply too crowded. I don't understand people who go to museums just to take a selfie in the same room as a famous artwork. If you really want to appreciate a work, you can learn far more about it on the Internet where you don't have to fight a sweaty crowd.

Most of the Louvre is pretty empty and easy to get around, though. At least as of five years ago. There are a few famous pieces that attract enormous crowds at peak times. But there are dozens of halls you can wander through without much traffic at all.

Going during the late hours that are available at the Louvre on Wednesday night is also a good strategy.

I got to the Louvre right when it opened on a slow September morning. I strolled right past the Mona Lisa. I actually thought, how come that room only had one painting in it? I went back, realizing maybe it was something special, and stood right in front of it for about five minutes. When I turned around the room was half full. It was not a life changing experience. I don’t remember noticing anything different about it.

I suppose this is a little bit of peer pressure also. As a tourist having come all the way to Paris and seen the Louvre it would seem silly to not have seen the Mona Lisa. Its like visiting Florence and not seeing Michelangelo's David.

My own viewing of Mona Lisa left me a little underwhelmed as well, though i have always found sculpture attracts me more than paintings. To each his own.

When I visited Paris, we visited Centre Pompidou instead of Louvre, and it was a pleasure. Though I don't know what I missed out on, Paris has a lot of museums [1]. The most popular ones aren't always the best (for you).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_museums_in_Paris

Alternative opinion: sure does keep the rest of the Louvre (which is enormous and full of incredible art) remarkably free of tourists.

I have seen the Mona Lisa in paris and .. it's really nothing special.

And recently I have seen the "other" Mona Lisa at Madrid's Prado; I like it a lot better https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mona_Lisa_(Prado%27s_version)

What a crazy opinion. People like to see it. Show it to them. If there are crowds, charge an extra fee to see it to keep them under control.

This is an elitist attitude. "I don't think these people are appreciating art properly, therefore let's take it away from them."

I'd never go out of my way to have a look at it alone. Leonardo is far more interesting on the whole than this singular portrait of an obscurity. Make Mona one item in a gallery of Leonardo's amazing fertility, then I'd probably give it a glance.

I understand if you want to see the Mona Lisa in person or you want a picture of yourself next to it (understood but annoyed). I do not understand people taking pictures of the painting by itself. Who does this and why?

I sometimes get that urge, either because there are so many paintings that I can't possibly watch them all in detail in a single visit, so I snap a picture thinking I'll review them later (I usually don't), or I like a painting so much that I take a picture so that I'm able to watch it again later (I rarely do). I have a phone with a nice camera and pictures of painting you can find online are often of very poor quality.

On the other had there is that strange mental phenomenon that if I take a picture of something then I tend not to remember it very well. Something in my brain must decide that it does not need to store information that is available on hand. So I try not to do it too much.

For some people, the act of taking a picture enriches the experience, and the pictures one takes oneself are more valuable than the ones you can go find on the Internet.

I guess I don't understand that, either, but only in the weak, "there's no accounting for taste" way that I don't understand how some people want whipped cream on their pie or 3D in their movies.

> the act of taking a picture enriches the experience

I guess if you enjoy photography maybe, but I see a lot of people with just their cell phone. And it's not like you can take your time with the picture, you have to compete with everyone else in the room.

> pictures one takes oneself are more valuable than the ones you can go find on the Internet

I guess the value implied is sentimental? If anything I imagine that would bring back horrible memories of being stuck in a room packed with people trying to take pictures of a painting. But hey maybe that's why most people leave disappointed.

So, in effect, you could accept that someone might want hand-whipped cream on their pie, but not Cool Whip?

I certainly wouldn't of the Mona Lisa. But I do sometimes snap pics of artworks and information displays so that I can remember to read up some more on them when I get home.

isn't this just a specific case of instagramification? it's all about social esteem/validation and not actually appreciating the art (or vista, architecture, culture, or anything else).

most folks wouldn't otherwise get anything more out of seeing the mona lisa in person than from a (high-res) photo. maybe there's some value in seeing it in context, but an art book is likely more informative and thought-provoking, since it can delve deeper into why one should care in the first place.

Pretty much any well-known museum in any popular touristic city has the same problem. Should they all be closed for the general public, and only snobby journalists be allowed to enter?

Sure, other museums are crowded. (And some deal with this by having timed admissions.) However, I'm not sure I could point to another example of a single piece in another museum that attracts the outsized crowds that the Mona Lisa does.

I don't think anyone is saying it should be closed. But it's not an unreasonable argument to say that it could be exhibited better. (Someone told me there was some recent rearrangement of galleries so I'm not sure what the current layout is exactly.)

There seems to be a large contingent who would say yes to that and then complain they can't go anywhere abroad on vacation and wonder why they have massive unemployment.

That sort of complete lack of self awareness and hypocrisy is distressing and unfortunately repeatably precedented.

Why would a US NYT writer have a say (even as a suggestion) on what a French museum should do?

Would they dare write the same thing for an artifact in an African country museum or a Native American one?

No, because then the arrogance would be clearly evident, and they'd be called a bigot immediately. Well, they should know that western country's museums are not their business either....

Whether the Mona Lisa is worth it, is another thing. He can restrict the suggestions to potential visitors to opt for something else...

This idea that an art critic (or any cultural critic) has to be from the country in question (or of the same race/gender/etc) to have a valid opinion is anti-intellectual and misguided.

And that is all this is, just the views and opinions of a single person. It's not some foreign nation state trying to dictate what another country should be doing.

>This idea that an art critic (or any cultural critic) has to be from the country in question (or of the same race/gender/etc) to have a valid opinion is anti-intellectual and misguided

This is not art criticism, this is telling another country what to do with the art in their museums...

> This is not art criticism,

I didn't say it was, but as an art critic he's more than sufficiently qualified to share his opinions on art galleries around the world. He visits art galleries for a living. He has plenty of credibility to make such a critique and there's absolutely nothing wrong with the fact he's American or writing for an American paper.

It's amazing what some people choose to get offended by. Or how people seek out mini power-trips by rejecting a diversity of ideas, pushing the idea only people born in some place or with certain attributes can be allowed to critique things. Or at worst the inherent xenophobia of dismissing foreigners opinions because they weren't born in the same country of the thing they are critiquing (which France and the french are notorious for, even here in Canada).

>It's amazing what some people choose to get offended by.

So like an author for NYT getting caught up by what a French museum has on display?

>Or at worst the inherent xenophobia of dismissing foreigners opinions because they weren't born in the same country of the thing they are critiquing

I didn't know not MYOB was "xenophobia".

Let me see you criticize black or Native American culture now, and calling them "xenophobic" if they don't take lightly to your suggestions. Or is that accusation confined to the French?

The NYTimes just hates history. It's apparent in all of their reporting and opinion articles.

Probably just needed to fill the column and she is mad they had to study the Mona Lisa in college for their fine arts credit.

It's a good painting but not a great painting. But it has some sort of cultural charm and sells tickets to crowds who fund the museum. Let them come and ogle. It's great.

For those others, examine the entirety of the rest of the museum, and leave that spectacle behind. It's not a problem to do so.

> Some 80 percent of visitors, according to the Louvre’s research, are here for the Mona Lisa — and most of them leave unhappy.

This is a great win. These 80% have become educated.

Let them eat cake.

It should be moved to Italy.

Or you should read a little bit about Da Vinci's life and how the painting ended up in France in the first place.

I read his biography by Isaacson. Seem to remember something about trouble in Italy so went to France and got next round of patronage there. Don't care. Napoleon is probably at fault somewhere in there.


> Time to Take Down the Mona Lisa?

Yeah! We already live in digital era, so:

“Share Lenna 97 JPG!”[0]

    $ wget http://www.ee.cityu.edu.hk/~lmpo/lenna/len_std.jpg
NOTE for Chrome-users: Sorry, you couldn't open this HTTP URL because Google prevent you surf 'unsecured' WEB!

[0] http://www.ee.cityu.edu.hk/~lmpo/lenna/Lenna97.html

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