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Is it time to take down the Mona Lisa?

Love for Louvre
1/6

Love for Louvre

Even in a city saturated with fall exhibitions, museums and art exhibits, the showstopper is still the decade-in-the-works “Leonardo da Vinci,” at the Musée du Louvre.

In the show downstairs, four of the Louvre’s five paintings by the least productive of Renaissance masters have been relocated. Upstairs, where da Vinci’s most famous work remains, is still a fiasco.

New York Times
Masterpiece, inside and out
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Masterpiece, inside and out

The Louvre can boast of hosting one the greatest collections of art anywhere in Europe, within a palace that is a masterpiece in its own right.

It is the most popular museum in the world. In 2018, a record 10 million visitors, three-quarters of them foreign tourists, besieged the joint: up 25% on the previous year, and more than triple the attendance of the Centre Pompidou or the Musée d’Orsay.

Getty Images
The Louvre is suffocating
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The Louvre is suffocating

Past summer, the Louvre undertook a renovation of the Mona Lisa’s gallery: the arching Salle des États, in the museum’s Denon wing, which once housed Parliament of France.

Relocated to the Richelieu painting wing, the Mona Lisa reduced the museum’s Flemish collection into wallpaper for a cattle pen, where guards shooed along irritated, sweaty selfie-snappers who’d endured a half-hour line. The overcrowding was so bad, the museum had to shut its doors on several days.

AP
Mona Lisa smile? Not so much
4/6

Mona Lisa smile? Not so much

Even back in her regular spot, on a freestanding wall, the situation in front of the Mona Lisa doesn't seem to have improved much.

Now, you must line up in TSA-style snake of retractable barriers that ends about 12 feet from the Leonardo — which, for a painting that’s just 2 1/2 feet tall, is too far for looking and way too far for a good selfie.

AP
Mona-mania
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Mona-mania

Jean-Luc Martinez, the museum’s director, has said the Louvre might take further steps to alleviate Mona mania in coming years: new entrances, timed tickets. This misunderstands the problem — for the Louvre, with more gallery space than any museum on the planet, isn’t that swamped if you can get through the security lines.

The Louvre does not have an overcrowding problem per se. It has a Mona Lisa problem. No other iconic painting — not Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” at the Uffizi in Florence, not Klimt’s “Kiss” at the Belvedere in Vienna, not “Starry Night” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York — comes anywhere close to monopolizing its institution like she does. And if tourist numbers continue to rise, if last year’s 10 million visitors become next year’s 11 or 12, the place is going to crack.

AP
Security hazard or piece of art?
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Security hazard or piece of art?

In the early 1990s, with the opening of I.M. Pei’s pyramid and the expansion into the Richelieu wing, the museum’s curators actually considered relocating the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa is a security hazard, an educational obstacle, and not even a satisfying bucket-list item.

No work of art should make people miserable. Then let them rediscover the Louvre as a museum.

New York Times
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