Mona Really Is Smiling

Mona Lisa’s smile is a little bit wider today.

The Louvre, home of the Mona Lisa, will have the first female president in its 228-year history. Laurence des Cars begins her work in September, just as the Louvre plans to fully reopen for visitors after being closed from COVID-19 concerns.

Des Cars comes from the Musée d’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie, also in Paris. She was the first woman president in those locations as well.

“She will create a dialogue between ancient art and the modern world, one of her priorities, with the constant concern of reaching the greatest number [of people],” the French cultural ministry said in its release. “She will place [her] experience, particularly proven during the crisis, at the center of the politics of the establishment.”

Reaching the greatest numbers

Reaching and involving the greatest number of people has long been a priority of art and, by extension, the goal of many seeking diverse ideas and bringing the whole team to play. As we look toward #5050x2028 — roughly half women and half men in elected office by 2028 — the art world offers vivid examples of how we can look at the world in more than one way.

Des Cars’ legacy includes boosting numbers of young visitors, giving art and visitors more physical space, and facing up to social issues through the art on display and through the actions taken by museums.

“A great museum must face history, including by looking back at the history of our own institutions,” des Cars told the news agency AFP in an interview in April. A museum’s shows should reflect “the big issues in society, and thus attract new generations” of visitors “of all ages and from all social-cultural backgrounds,” she said.

Des Cars also has a priority of bringing to light overlooked art and has championed diversity, highlighted racial divisions, and curated shows with cross-generational relevance.

That is a strong walk along the path to #5050x2028.

“I hope that the future is female — at least balanced female, male, and they.”
— Anne Pasternak, Director, The Brooklyn Museum


Looking for balance

One appointment, however, does not negate years of struggle, even if at the biggest art museum in the world.

A recent survey of the permanent collections of 18 prominent U.S. art museums found that the represented artists are 87 percent male and 85 percent white. Nearly half (45.8 percent) of visual artists in the United States are women; on average, they earn 74¢ for every dollar made by male artists. And only 29 of the winners of the Turner Prize, one of the best-known visual art awards, have been women — though several have won over the past decade. In 2017, Lubaina Himid became the first woman of color to win. Only 13.7 percent of living artists represented by galleries in Europe and North America are women.

“I hope that the future is female — at least balanced female, male, and they,”Anne Pasternak said, shortly after she became the first female director of the Brooklyn Museum. “But we have a long way to go, very clearly.”

Making a masterpiece

Des Cars’ appointment changes one frustating fact. Until her selection, three of the most-visited art museums in the world, the British Museum (est. 1753), the Louvre (est. 1793), and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (est. 1870), have never had female directors.

No one thing defines art, except that we all see it through our own eyes and create it from our own souls. Often, a few more brush strokes make a masterpiece. In the case of Des Cars, the Louvre has changed the scene utterly, with a single stroke.

©2021 Women’s Campaign Fund


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