‘Glass Onion’ Parodies Art Collecting to Eat the Rich – ARTnews.com

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‘Glass Onion’ Parodies Art Collecting to Eat the Rich – ARTnews.com

Every joke has a grain of truth in it, and the central one in it Glass onionRian Johnson’s new celebrity-bedecked murder mystery now streaming on Netflix contains more than a little honesty.

The gag revolves around the Mona Lisawhich appears not in the Louvre, but in an Elon Musk-like billionaire’s home, where the Leonardo da Vinci painting can be found encased in a transparent frame, testifying to a group of wealthy friends and enemies fighting over who killed one of their own .

Herein lies the irony: the Mona Lisa, a painting considered so valuable that its monetary value is not known becomes less important than what precedes it, as happened periodically in real life. In the film, the painting, like all the other art alongside it, is literally the background of a crime scene. One museum’s crown jewel becomes a rich man’s window dressing.

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Miles Bron, the fictional tycoon whose $450 million home in Greece serves as the main setting for Johnson’s film, acquired the painting because of the moment’s unique circumstances. (Edward Norton plays him.) It’s May 2020, and everything has shut down. In the midst of boredom, he invites, via a set of puzzle boxes, a group of old acquaintances to his gaudy seaside home, for reasons that remain shadowy until they get there. All the guests, minus private eye Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), know Miles personally.

After everyone is gathered on the island and vaccinated against COVID-19 with what may or may not be snake oil, they gather in the house’s atrium, where they stand in front of the Leonardo painting, which amid a group of postwar abstractions, figurative paintings are displayed. , and chintzy sculptures.

“This place is the Tate Modern,” says Connecticut Governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), champagne flute in hand. “Why would you hang a print of the Mona Lisa front and center? It’s like hanging a Che poster in your dorm room.”

Miles smiles and lets his guests know that the painting is the real thing. “The Louvre was closed, France needed money, so I bought myself a small short-term loan,” he says. “You know, it seems that the transportation and the security were most of the costs. Look at this.” He held up a torch lighter and lit it, and a shield suddenly covered the painting as everyone looked in agony.

For Miles, the painting is simply a prop used to show off his wealth. He doesn’t seem to care much for the Mona Lisa‘s history, and when he briefly touches on its significance, he claims that Leonardo “invented a technique for brush strokes that leaves no lines.” That technique is known as sfumatoand Giorgio Vasari, an art historian born almost a decade after Mona Lisa was painted, even attributed its origin to the Flemish painters, not Italians like Leonardo. Whether that error is the fault of Miles or Johnson himself is unclear.

The Mona Lisa may be the centerpiece in Miles’ home, but there are also a number of other art-historically significant works—or, at least, riffs on them. There is a dirty red abstraction that is clearly an allusion to the work of Cy Twombly, whose large paintings can actually now be seen in the real Tate Modern. There is a painting of a tear falling from a woman’s eye, a nod to pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s images of weeping women. There is a canvas showing a cyclopean figure looking at a tangle of pipes, intestines and hands; it is similar in style to art by Philip Guston, currently the subject of a traveling retrospective.

A man in a smart jacket appears shocked while a woman with a red top in a more casual dress and another woman in an elegant suit stand behind him.  They appear amidst glass sculptures on raised plinths.

Riffs on work by masters, such as Philip Guston (back left), appear throughout Glass onion.

No one seems to pay much attention to these works, which may not approach the Mona Lisa in value but, within the film’s world, are bona fide masterpieces in their own right. Or are they?

For example, there is no Guston painting that looks exactly like the one in Miles’ collection. It’s a lie that hardly seems convincing, and a false lead just like the one Blanc investigates during the film’s second hour, after one partygoer falls through a coffee table while choking on a poisoned cocktail.

Even the paintings that are more closely modeled on real ones are deliberately not given their future. There is a version of Mark Rothko’s 1961 painting Number 207 (Red over Dark Blue on Dark Grey), with a fiery crimson mass hanging above a barely-there sample of navy blue. In Miles’ house, the painting is hung upside down, so that it is dark blue over red. “I like the idea that Miles is clueless,” Johnson told the Wall Street Journal.

Miles is intended as a dilettante—a small-time collector with big ambitions who wouldn’t know the first thing about Abstract Expressionism even if a deluge of Clement Greenberg essays rained down on him. The film suggests that he is not an anomaly in that regard. All rich people, it seems, are obsessed with fancy things. They just don’t want to think when they show off their possessions.

But who gets the last laugh here, the viewers of Glass onion or the wealthy targeted by the film? Johnson seems to want it to be the former group, as suggested by the ending, in which-spoiler alert—Helen Brand (Janelle Monáe) sets the Mona Lisa ablaze over the revelation that Miles killed her sister and killed one of his guests. (This is all part of a conspiracy designed to grow Miles’ fortune that is too complicated to explain here.) As the Mona Lisa‘s smile is reduced to embers, Miles cries in existential pain, and Nat King Cole’s “Mona Lisa” plays on the soundtrack.

There is one shot in which the appearance of Mondrian and Bacon can also be seen burning, but the focus here is actually the Mona Lisa, who gets her own movie star close-ups and the requisite reverse shots with a distressed Norton. This implies that Johnson was also always most interested in the Leonardo, and that that painting really is the most valuable one in Miles’ collection, all the other art on view be damned.

The painting that gets the most money gets the most attention Glass onion, which enacts the same misguided art-historical dynamic that Johnson himself seeks to undermine. Miles’ place is the Tate Modern. Why would Johnson the Mona Lisa front and center?

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