The second one gone was the Mona Lisa. It happened a couple of weeks after the Screaming Man incident. The Louvres museum in Paris now found itself in the same conundrum as its Norwegian counterpart. Again, this wasn’t a case of thieves stealing the famous Leonardo Da Vinci painting. It was much much worse. At least, with thieves, you could start an investigation, track down the suspects, hope that one day the painting would show up at an auction house or private collection and get it back. But this? This was… incomprehensible.
The painting itself still hung right there, encased in its protective glass shell, in the most visited wing of the Louvres. But there was no one in the painting any longer. The lady with the mysterious smile, christened alternatively La Joconde or La Gioconda by some, and Mona Lisa by others, was gone. All that was left was the landscape dreamed up by Da Vinci, those distant valleys from which poured out those curvy streams, as sensuous as the curves of the vanished Gioconda.
Museum security, police, and a few shrewd tabloid reporters masked as volunteer help, scurried around the interminable, tentacle-like hallways and corridors of the Louvres in search of the missing lady. Paintings were turned over, sarcophaguses opened, even restrooms combed through. An ambitious young gendarme climbed to the very top of the I.M. Pei eyesore pyramid to make sure La Gioconda had not climbed up there by mistake and stuck herself like a cat, unable to return to earth. Witnesses were interrogated thoroughly by Interpol:
-- “Did anyone ask to see the Mona Lisa today?”
-- “Why, why yes, they did! Indeed, they did.”
-- “Tell me, who?”
-- “Errrr… well, everybody did. Everybody always does, it’s the most popular attraction in the museum.”
It was hopeless. The security cameras were similarly fruitless. Someone, or something, had turned them off at one point during the night, and there was no clue as to how Lisa Gioconda had escaped her glass confinement.
Once is an accident, twice a trend, the international art community buzzed feverishly over long distance telephone lines and Internet blogs and vlogs. Every one of them looked on nervously at their own treasures, wondering if they too were going to wake up one day to find that the villagers in Picasso’s Guernica or Whistler’s old mum had decided to emigrate to whereabouts unknown.
One prominent art critic tried to go against the trend, to downplay the incidents.
-- “We have no proof that either the Screaming Man or Mona Lisa have even left.”
He would confidently state during numerous television interviews, amazed that he was finally in the spotlight of the public interest instead of some starlet who had flashed her crotch on her way to meet the Dalai Lama. “For all we know, they might still be inside the painting. Hidden somewhere in the landscape. Perhaps the Screaming Man simply could not deal with his hundred year old unanswered call for help and he, unfortunately, decided to jump off the bridge and he drowned in the river below. I mean, that’s what he was there for in the first place, cause he was suicidal, right?”
Although the art critic had his fifteen minutes of fame, the rest of the art community remained unconvinced. Other wild theories soon popped up. The Screaming Man and Mona Lisa had been kidnapped in a terrorist plot to protest American foreign policy. The whole thing was a publicity stunt dreamed up by a Hollywood studio head to market the latest summer Superhero sizzler. A wealthy Japanese industrialist had commissioned his yakuza gang to kidnap the world’s most famous artworks in order to imprison them in his own mansion, where they would be jealously guarded for eternity. Serious intellectuals even began to wonder if this was not the work of UFOs.
With all the time wasted spewing out gibberish, more and more art works were vanishing with incredible speed. It was a veritable epidemic. The museums were not the only ones to be ravaged. Art galleries, large and small, private collections, churches, luxury hotels and government buildings, universities and corporations, all became the victims of this vanishing act until soon, nothing was left in the entire world of what had once been.
In New York’s MOMA, an Egyptian tourist was the first to alert the authorities that Georgia O’Keefe’ skeletal ram’s head was no longer suspended in the air between the yellow sand of the desert and the blue-gray clouds of the New Mexico sky. The chief curator of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, who had decided to guard the paintings himself, shotgun in hand, throughout the night, woke up horrified to realize that all of the artist’self-portraits had escaped during his slumber.
The world famous Persian miniatures were stripped of their gorgeous, dark-lashed women and fierce soldiers, from the ancient works of Reza Abbasi down to the contemporary masterpieces of Mahmoud Farshchian. The imperial dragons of the Ming Dynasty vases had flown the coop to skies unknown. In Rome, the Pope looked on desolately at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, where God created…nothing anymore.
Despite her paralyzed legs, Frida Kahlo had somehow managed to get up and walk out of Mexico City. It was as if she had never existed. The sea shell that had given birth to Botticelli’s Venus lay empty, the cherubs blowing on nothingness. Even the primitive cavemen paintings that had been most carefully preserved in places like the caves of Chauvet, France had upped and left. Where had they all gone?
When at last, nothing was left, no images had been spared, and the world lay bare of its most famous icons, people were desolate. Strangely, they felt relief too. Whatever it was, this wave that had come and swept over the planet more destructively than any typhoon, it was at least over. There was nothing left to plunder.
Or was there? The latest news from Florence shot like a dagger around the globe. A half drunk homeless Roma swore that he had seen the statue of David, camouflaged in a gray trench coat and fedora, get onto a train in the town’s main station >>> Part 3