Works > Monument to Cold War Victory, 2012 to 2014

The Mona Lisa Gown, detail
The Mona Lisa Gown, detail

Michael Wang (b. 1981, Olney, MD; lives New York)

steel, fabric, beads
55 x 13 x 8 in

offset print (multiple)
22 x 28 in

Immediately after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, which nearly brought the US (and the world) to nuclear catastrophe, Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa” was exhibited in Washington DC. The loan from France, organized at the personal request of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, linked democratic ideals to the history of Western art and civilization, while cementing French and American military ties. In the highly televised images of the Mona Lisa opening—which would become America’s first “blockbuster” museum show—Jackie was admired like a work of art, while the Mona Lisa was adored like a celebrity. (In the same year, Andy Warhol would begin his iconic silkscreens of both.)

In proposing to internationally tour the First Lady’s original opening dress as a commemoration of victory, Wang isolates an exemplary moment of Cold War monumentality, in which mass media aligned with high art on the geopolitical stage. The work suggests a complex politics of the image, in which a gown becomes a tool of propaganda or becomes a missile, and an artwork becomes an ambassador or a bomb. By focusing on an overlooked episode from this period, Wang also acknowledges the inadequacy of any project of monument-making to account for the diverse, often opposing experiences of a war spread across dozens of nations.

Text by Stamatina Gregory.