PARIS, Feb. 12, 2009 -- Starting today, visitors to the Louvre museum in Paris have two versions of the Mona Lisa to admire -- or not: the original one, an enigmatic smile on her face and the star attraction of the museum, and a new second one, crying.
Chinese-born contemporary painter Yan Pei-Ming decided to take on the world's most famous subject, the Mona Lisa, by creating a huge set of five paintings, "The Funeral of the Mona Lisa," on display through May 18.
"As soon as I received the invitation from the Louvre, I immediately thought of the Mona Lisa," Yan said in the exhibition catalog. "It was for me [obvious]. The entire world knows this painting which symbolizes the Louvre."
The five-painting set of 9- to 13-foot-high gray-and-white monochromes are located 100 feet away, in a separate room, from Leonardo Da Vinci's 500-year-old masterpiece, "Mona Lisa."
At the center of Yan's work is the revisited Mona Lisa in her legendary pose, but with her eyes and face strewed with tears and streaks of paint running down her front. This Mona Lisa is flanked by two landscape paintings that are an extension of the mysterious Italian landscape shown in the original painting.
These landscapes are sprinkled with human skulls modeled on scans of Yan's head. On both ends, there is a portrait of the painter's father, who recently passed away, and an auto portrait of Yan pretending to be dead.
"I wanted to give again the Mona Lisa another life and, thus, the most efficient way to do this was to bury her," the artist, 48, said. "I had the idea to accompany her funeral with portraits of my father and of myself. On one side, there is my father on his death bed, present with me at the Louvre and, thus, still 'alive' in this painting and, on the other side, myself represented 'dead' at the morgue, because normally we enter the Louvre only when we are a dead artist.
"This project, thus, talks about the relation between the father and the son, between the dead and the more dead than alive, the eternal subject of painting. This is the signification of this funeral. To bury the myth in order to revitalize the act of painting. This is a celebration and not only a funeral."
Yan has been leading a reflection on mankind for a long time -- the cycle of life and death, the relation between father and son. Yan, who left China in 1980 and now lives in Dijon, France, is known for his immense portraits of icons of the 20th century, ranging from Chairman Mao to actor Bruce Lee and even, recently, Barack Obama and John McCain during the presidential campaign.
"The Louvre commission is a turning point in my work," Yan said. "If one day I have another exhibition at the Louvre, it will be probably because I'm a dead artist. I thus had to pull out all the stops."
The Louvre is the most visited art museum in the world. About 8.5 million people visited last year.
After the Louvre exhibit, Yan will show the portrait of Obama in San Francisco. He will also display his work representing six denominations of U.S. currency and a watercolor painting representing the interior of a U.S. military cargo plane with caskets of soldiers killed in Iraq, covered with the U.S. flag. "Obama is restoring hope but he is not changing the Americans' destiny," Yan said.