Review: Art and Money- The Mona Lisa Curse as told by a Grief-stricken Art Critic

September 19, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

robert-hughes.jpgChannel 4, Sunday 21st September, 6.30pm  Alert me

Despair pervades Channel 4’s gripping start to their new Art and Money season.  The Mona Lisa Curse deftly explores how art as commodity has bleakly taken over from art as art.  Set against a historical backdrop of a suffocating mounting dread, the programme leaves you at a desperate loss.

The Mona Lisa Curse is presented by Robert Hughes, renowned for his heavy involvement in the heady sixties art scene as art critic of TIME magazine.  He grouchily tells the tale of how art came to be valued more monetarily than ever before.  Hughes charts the historical event that began the bastardization of art as 1963 when the Mona Lisa was exhibited in New York.  People flocked not to look at the painting but for the experience of having seen it.  As galleries caught on to this fetishism, he argues that they became commercialized under the guise of popularising their institutions for the common good, actually forming brands to be bought into by visitors.  Consequently, the art collector and schmoozing art advisor emerged and suddenly prices were going gaga and taking artists with them.

The show, essentially an essay on film, uses the medium to impressive ends, demonstrating the hollow, money-driven people of the monetized art world.  Spliced shots of the various well-to-do cackling raucously while trading artwork in return for status and money are interspersed with an urgently building soundtrack as Hughes bitterly describes them as a “plague?.  The effect is an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness – kind of as if you’re tied up and being forced to listen to a villain’s evil plan as he presents you with his crystal ball showing it’s all unfolding and the world’s collapsing.

Much is so intertwined with Hughe’s own career that it is difficult not to see The Mona Lisa Curse as just a cranky old man, who, nostalgic of the sixties, has aged and become disenchanted thus, spouting spurious accusations all over the place.  However, it is this very personal touch that renders the line of reasoning behind The Mona Lisa Curse meaningful.  Once so inspired by the wonder of art, he has now come to a point where he can solemnly stand unimpressed next to a piece (Damian Hirst’s preserved shark) declaring it “the world’s most overrated marine organism.?   His passion has died and this is sad.

No doubt about it, The Mona Lisa Curse is a vehicle for a grief-stricken, Hughes to mourn the loss of his life-long love affair with art.  But because of this genuine distress, his argument is all the more compelling.  Art lovers and money lovers alike should not miss The Mona Lisa Curse and the chance to decide for themselves.

 By Susan Allen