In the beginning, an image, iconic, as they say. That of the stranded Statue of Liberty, the remains half-buried on an almost deserted shore. It’s this final sequence of The Planet of the Apes which imposes itself on the mind of Stéphane Dinstinguin, in the depopulated streets of Paris, in the heart of the first confinement, in April 2020. “I couldn’t help but remember this post-apocalyptic scene, says the founding president of the innovation agency Fabernovel. What struck me were the show posters, as if frozen in time. I then asked myself this question: what are we going to do with all these shows? We spoke very early on of recovery plans, for aeronautics, tourism, etc. But not for culture, this good considered non-essential while during the successive confinements, we spent our time watching Netflix… ”
Then comes to Stéphane Distinguin “an absurd idea”. Provocative, almost sacrilegious. “What if we sold Mona Lisa to help the cultural sector? “What was initially a Facebook post of containment is taken up by Usbek & Ricathen was the subject of an article in the Corriere Della Sera, and created a certain excitement in the international media. The question of the sale of the most enigmatic smile in the world is today the subject of a book, published by JC Lattès: What if we sold the Mona Lisa?
Why Mona Lisa ? What is this wooden panel 79.4 centimeters high and 53.4 wide, which crossed the Alps on the back of a donkey, wrapped by Leonardo da Vinci in a coarse fabric, the symbol? “The value of the Mona Lisa lies in its size and its fragility, I am convinced of that. » It is also, no doubt, due to the very particular place and time when it was created: the Florence of the 15th century, which Stéphane Distinguin does not hesitate to describe as follows: “As if San Francisco and its Silicon Valley, New York and Wall Street, Shenzhen and its factories, Paris, its Picassos and its Hemingways were brought together in one and the same city of just over one hundred square kilometers. In the same workshop coexisted Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphaël… Everything is made possible in Florence, where entrepreneurs, condottiere abound…”
“Ultimate pop-cultural object”
Born in a storytelling sfumato, Mona Lisa has only relatively recently acquired the status of the most expensive work in the world. “An expertise dating from the Revolution assessed Mona Lisa ten times less than a Raphael, recalls Stéphane Distinguin. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century, with the incredible story of the theft of Mona Lisa by an Italian glazier, Vincenzo Peruggia, in 1911, then the work LHOOQ by Duchamp in 1919, that its value exploded. Somehow today Mona Lisa is known for its celebrity, its status as the ultimate pop-cultural object, from Warhol to Dan Brown, from Beyoncé to Lupin. »
But if The Mona Lisa is The Mona Lisait is undoubtedly also thanks to the Louvre, a former royal residence that became the Central Museum of the Arts of the Republic in the midst of the Revolution, in 1793 – today, the largest museum of art and antiquity in the world. “There is something magical about the Louvre, it is very difficult to separate it from the Mona Lisa. The Louvre has been reorganized a great deal around Mona Lisa. People revolve around it with devotion whereas at the beginning of the 20th century it was just one canvas among others. Mona Lisa hides other paintings, just as interesting today…”
Exfiltrated from the Louvre, is the Mona Lisa still as desirable? “What the great experts in the history of art explain is that a work is also a matter of context, explains Stéphane Distinguin, citing, among other examples, the bouquet of tulips of Jeff Koons offered in Paris after the attacks of 2015 and 2016. What, basically, makes all the value of La Joconde, is its inalienability: according to article 3111-1 of the General Code of the property of public persons, its property is inalienable and imprescriptible.
Fiercely unassignable, unsaleable, Mona Lisa…unlike other works by Leonardo da Vinci. Like the famous Salvator Mundipurchased for $450 million in 2017 by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. “The painting was found in an American suburban house in Louisiana, very blackened, in very poor condition, relates Stéphane Distinguin. It initially sold for $1,175 at the Saint-Louis sales… Today it is an auction record, when there is perhaps only 1% of Leonardo da Vinci in it… It has been so restored in every way that it no longer contains large- thing from the original painting.”
Mona Lisa for everyone
If the world savior is worth almost half a billion dollars, how much for Mona Lisa? In 2021, estimates put its value at 2 or 3 billion dollars, which would already correspond to the most expensive painting of all time. “Let’s not fool around! No transaction should be concluded at less than 50 billion”adds Stéphane Distinguin, who points out, for all intents and purposes, that theVitruvian man of Leonardo da Vinci, a simple drawing, was lent by Italy against a billion cold and hard dollars…
Beyond pure and simple sale, what Stéphane Distnguin defends is a greater circulation of works, a universal inalienability which allows the Mona Lisa – and other treasures – to be seen by as many people as possible. . “We could show it in Africa for several decades, which would perhaps be more interesting than returning certain cultural assets that are very badly acquired [à l’instar des 26 œuvres d’art pillées par les troupes coloniales françaises exposées au Quai Branly, rendues au Bénin en novembre 2021]. There are other loan and gift policies to think about. In my opinion, you have to be a little more comfortable with the idea of changing the icon…”
What if we had to replace Mona Lisawhich work would have favored Stéphane Dinstinguin? “Beyond the works that move me and that I know, I would especially like to be surprised. » Aesthetic shocks, the filmmaker Robert Bresson did not hope for anything else: “There is no art without surprise, without change. »