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nytimes – Why do people want Jeff Bezos to buy and eat the Mona Lisa?

To “imagine a new art, you have to shatter the old art”, wrote the French writer Marcel Schwob over 100 years ago. Today that call to action was boldly issued in the form of a Change.org petition demanding that Jeff Bezos buy and eat the Mona Lisa.

The petition, which at the time of printing had over 9,200 signatures, was started by Kane Powell, a resident of Stevensville, Maryland. “No one has eaten mona lisa and we think Jeff Bezos needs to take a stand and make it happen,” his petition reads.

Mr. Powell isn’t wrong, in fact: Ever since it was painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the early 1500s, people have stolen the Mona Lisa, copied the Mona Lisa, and threw a cup of tea at the Mona Lisa – but no one has ever eaten it.

Mr Powell came up with the idea for the petition – which, to be clear, is a joke – while he was at Applebee with his fiancee and two friends before the pandemic. The party of four had dinner and started ordering from the $ 1 drink menu, and that’s when the ingenuity started to sink in. “Jeff Bezos was in the news at the time,” Mr. Powell said. “We were like, ‘What if he bought it and ate it? It would be silly and outlandish.

It wasn’t until the past week that the petition gained traction. Mr Powell said he had long forgotten that he even did.

Sophie Grange, deputy director of communications at the Louvre, where the Mona Lisa is on permanent display, said in an email: “We have seen the petition but the Louvre will not comment.”

In his call to action, Mr Powell makes a statement about the absurdity of the massive amounts of accumulated wealth, as well as the oddity of the current Internet age. “We all know Bezos has more money than he needs,” Mr. Powell said. “It would just be fun for a person of that kind of power to be fun with their money because, let’s be honest, they don’t need it, and I think that would be just entertainment.”

It’s an interesting thought experiment.

Mr. Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has a net worth of over $ 200 billion. In 1962, according to Guinness World Records, the Mona Lisa was valued at $ 100 million, then “the highest known insurance valuation for a painting.” In today’s dollars, that would translate to roughly over $ 850 million. Although Mr Bezos could theoretically afford it, the Mona Lisa is not for sale and France would probably not be willing to give it up.

“As a general rule, the French Heritage Code states that works in French national collections (eg the Louvre) are considered French national treasures. Other provisions of French law provide that national treasures are inalienable, ”wrote Stephen Urice, director of arts law at the University of Miami Law School, in an email.

Even if the Mona Lisa were sold for $ 60 billion (as recommended by French tech leader Stéphane Distinguin), Mr Bezos could still theoretically afford it. Eating it might turn out to be more difficult, but that would really depend on Mr. Bezos’ stomach.

“You might have indigestion, but there’s nothing stopping you under US law from eating the Mona Lisa if you have one,” said Amy Adler, art law expert and professor at the Law School of the New York University. “We only protect works for the life of the artist, with a few exceptions, but that’s basically the rule under the Visual Artists Rights Act. “

In France, moral rights, or “moral rights” would generally protect a work of art against such an act. “Moral rights protect artists against alteration, mutilation or damage to their works that would damage their reputation,” said Mr. Urice.

But Leonardo da Vinci’s works are not covered by them, Urice added. “The law was not promulgated until the 19th century, and certain aspects of moral rights in France belong to the heirs who can enforce them, but the law would not be retroactive to the 16th century.

Yet the hypothetical scenario that Mr. Bezos would buy and consume the Mona Lisa would fit “in the tradition of destroying art as a means of creating art,” Ms. Adler said.

For example, to create his 1953 work “Erased de Kooning Drawing”, Robert Rauschenberg spent a month erasing a drawing by Willem de Kooning. “Here is an example of how art can emerge from the near destruction of a previous work. Rauschenberg’s work depends on his violating not a reproduction of a work but an original, and not any original, but an original by Willem de Kooning, ”Ms. Adler wrote in an article titled “Against moral rights”.

Marcel Duchamp had his own version of the Mona Lisa satire. In 1919, tired of blind reverence for Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous work, Duchamp bought a print of the Mona Lisa and drew it in pencil on a mustache and goatee. He gave her the title “LHOOQ” – which, when said aloud in French, essentially means “she has an attractive butt”.

More recently, in 2019 at Art Basel Miami Beach, New York artist David Datuna ate bananas in Maurizio Cattelan’s “comedian”. (He said that “it tasted like $ 120,000.”) Mr. Datuna also claimed that it was not an act of vandalism, but a performance. “This is the first time that an artist has eaten another artist’s concept,” he said.

Whatever its artistic merit, the petition, Ms. Adler said, “captures the feeling that Jeff Bezos can buy anything and make it his own” – including “the ultimate symbol of our common public interest in art. “. (To be continued: the NFT version?)

Indeed, Duchamp, who loved humor, might have signed the petition if he was alive today. After all, he once said: “Use a Rembrandt as an ironing board”.

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