Mona Lisa Descending



Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase

directed by Joan C. Gratz
Short film

View a still from the film

The viewer is confronted with a famous, enigmatic smirk, which dominates the screen in close-up: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. This is not the original painting, but a recreation moulded from modelling clay. It is soon followed by another familiar artwork, then another, each morphing into the next with a swirl of colour. One transition sees the curved body of a woman depicted by Pablo Picasso become a much more abstracted nude. Other transformations embrace the absurd, as when an airborne baguette becomes a legged fish, both images courtesy of René Magritte.

This technique seems to be suggesting a chain of associations, or mapping out a stylistic narrative of Western visual art. The result is more than a series of textbook-style illustrations, though, just as the images themselves are more than imitations. They are animated and brought alive by touches of humour. Faces smile and blink, clouds drift in the sky, and waves roll towards the shore. By incorporating the art of the past so playfully into her work, Joan C. Gratz hints that stop-motion animation, too, is worthy of the admiration that ‘fine’ art has long enjoyed.

Words by Sophia Martin-Pavlou

We survey a moving art gallery, stacked full with paintings by artistic heavyweights. Yet there are no snippets of text affixed to the wall; we are given no contextual information. Visitors, frames, and even canvases are nowhere to be seen. Instead, Joan C. Gratz curates an imaginary exhibition using only clay and her bare hands, and captures the result on film. Rather than wandering from one spectacle to the next, we need only sit and stare as one artwork warps into the next, an effect made possible by the malleable materials employed.

Though our path is not dictated by a narrative framework, thematic threads lead us onwards. The focus is on pure form, with developments in style presented as inevitable, devoid of any struggle or outside influence. Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d'Avignon neatly fractures into Cubism, while Mark Rothko’s monochrome oblongs shapeshift into Pop Art. The fluidity of the final product is at odds with the meticulous, time-consuming process of Claymation. Through her virtuosic reproduction, Gratz mischievously questions museums’ adherence to the accepted canon of art history.

Words by Katherine Fieldgate

More to discover

Watch Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase here. Read an article about the film by Rachel Kipp for PopMatters and an interview with Joan C. Gratz, the film’s director by Ramin Zahed for Animation Magazine.

Question of the day

Does only fine art belong in galleries?
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