Explained: 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 more than 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 more than 10,500 signatures, was started by Kane Powell, a resident of Stevensville, Maryland. “No one has eaten the Mona Lisa and we believe Jeff Bezos needs to take a stand and make that happen,” his petition read.

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 never did. ate it.

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 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,” said Powell. “We thought, ‘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. Powell said he had long forgotten that he even had.

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, Powell makes a statement about the absurdity of the massive amounts of accumulated wealth, as well as the oddity of the Internet age. “We all know Bezos has more money than he needs,” 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.

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. While Bezos could theoretically afford it, the Mona Lisa is not for sale and France would likely not be willing to give it up.

“As a general rule, the French Heritage Code stipulates 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, ”said Stephen Urice, director of arts law at the University of Miami School of Law, in an email.

Even if the Mona Lisa were sold for $ 60 billion (as recommended by French tech leader Stéphane Distinguin), Bezos could still theoretically afford it. Eating it might turn out to be more difficult, but that would really depend on 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,” Urice said. But the works of Leonardo da Vinci are not covered by them, he added.

@ 2021 The New York Times

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