In 1961, after the Kennedys took an iconic trip to Paris, Mrs. Kennedy arranged for the Mona Lisa to make the transatlantic journey, Stewart D. McLaurin, President of the White House Historical Association and Concordia Senior Advisor, recounted. At showings in New York and Washington, DC, millions of people had the opportunity to see this famous piece.
Ambassador Philippe Etienne, Ambassador of France to the United States, noted that he did not know if such an exchange would be possible today. Museum exchanges remain important for diplomacy between countries but the prime minister at the time facilitated that exchange. If such an exchange occurred now, Kaywin Feldman, Director at the National Gallery of Art, said she believes there would be some interest but probably not the same queues. Bénédicte de Montlaur, President & CEO of the World Monuments Fund, explained the challenges involved in such an exchange. The Mona Lisa was impossible to insure and there were many concerns over whether it would be safe in transport. For certain works of art, it would necessitate a high level of political involvement to make it happen today.
McLaurin asked the panel how we might similarly reinvigorate interest in the arts today. Etienne explained that he wants to help educate a more diverse group of young people to generate new exchanges and conversations. Feldman put the onus on institutions to communicate the relevance of art in order to reach the audience and inspire the next generation. For de Montlaur, the idea is to engage with the topics that matter to this generation and show how art can be relevant to the modern age.
“The exchanges between museums remain extremely important for the relations between our countries.”
Ambassador Philippe Etienne, Ambassador of France to the United States, Embassy of France
“The Mona Lisa is like the Kardashians today; she is famous for being famous.”
Kaywin Feldman, Director, National Gallery of Art
“It was a huge success in cultural diplomacy and exchange in that day.”
Stewart D. McLaurin, President, White House Historical Association; Concordia Senior Advisor
“Even though the world was not crafted yet, it was really the emergence of the idea of soft power.”
Bénédicte de Montlaur, President & CEO, World Monuments Fund