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Arts in the News: Mysterious Mona Lisa, Union Station’s Free Piano and more.

Another Clue about the Mysterious Mona Lisa

Experts at the Louvre have been closely examining a 16th-century drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, suspecting it may have provided the inspiration for his considerably more famous “Mona Lisa.” The drawing–a charcoal rendition of a nude woman–is known as “Monna Vanna” and has been kept in the collection of Renaissance art at the Conde Museum north of Paris for the last 150 years. Originally attributed to da Vinci, many suspect the sketch was in fact completed by one of the artist’s students or assistants in his style. The Monna Vanna recently underwent scientific analysis; 12 experts concluded that the rendering was created at least in part by da Vinci himself. Furthermore, they believe the drawing to be a preparatory study for the iconic Mona Lisa itself. If true, the sketch would likely be of Lisa Gherardini, long thought to be the “Lisa” of the Mona Lisa. Mathieu Deldicque, the deputy curator at the Conde Museum, explained that the sketch “is not a pale copy. We are looking at something that was worked on in parallel with the ‘Mona Lisa’ at the end of Leonardo’s life.” Among the evidence, experts cite the fact that the drawing and painting are exactly the same size, and the hands and body are in the same position and at the same angle. The Monna Vanna certainly provides an intriguing clue to the ongoing mystery of the Mona Lisa!

Union Station’s Free Piano Put to Good Use

Nearly every day, Matthew Shaver plays the Los Angeles Union Station free public piano for twenty straight minutes, often drawing a small crowd of commuters and tourists. Twenty minutes is the maximum play time allowed, according to posted rules, and for that time Shaver fills the hall with jazz, pop, and blues improvisations. Once in a while a passerby may join him for an impromptu duet. Drawn in by his music, listeners may be puzzled by his ragged appearance: indeed, Shaver, 30, is homeless–or “home-free,” as he describes it. He has been playing the piano from the age of 4, introduced by his two older sisters who taught him the basics. Shaver describes the piano as “the most positive influence in my life.” To him, playing is “a meditation. Like, you pray about something and then you meditate on it. The piano is my meditation.” A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Shaver has had struggles with depression and drug use. While his rap sheet makes him a pariah in many places, the piano isn’t one of them: “Doing drugs doesn’t make a person bad. Just like going to church doesn’t make you a good person. [But at the piano], I have respect,” he explains. He says he appreciates the presence of a piano he can play, no questions asked–when he stops by churches to request to play for a couple minutes, he is often refused. What a testament to the power of access to musical instruments–hopefully the Union Station piano and others like it continue to help individuals make music who otherwise would not have access to instruments.

Several from the Arts World Named MacArthur Geniuses

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced the latest recipients of its annual MacArthur Fellowship–frequently referred to as the “Genius Grant.” Each “genius” receives a $625,000 check and an accolade previously awarded to icons like Susan Sontag and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The grants have been awarded annually since 1981 in order to identify and extol high-achieving individuals across a wide range of disciplines. There are currently no restrictions governing what recipients do with the money. This year’s geniuses include several from the arts world: Jesmyn Ward, a fiction writer who puts black, marginalized communities at the center of her stories; Tyshawn Sorey, a composer and musician whose singular practice collapses boundaries by including Western classical, American, and Ethiopian creative expressions; Yuval Sharon, an opera director and producer known for unorthodox performances that are immersive and itinerant; Trevor Paglen, a conceptual artist and geographer who uses public records and declassified documents as artistic materials; Viet Thanh Nguyen, a fiction writer and cultural critic who uses fiction to provide a “voice to the voiceless”; Taylor Mac, a theater artist who breaks down highbrow and lowbrow art to toy with assumptions about gender, performance, and identity; Rhiannon Giddens, a singer, instrumentalist, and songwriter trained as an opera singer and with a mastery of the fiddle and banjo who illuminates the overlooked influence of African-American artists to folk and country genres; Dawoud Bey, a photographer and educator who creates portraits of individuals from overlooked communities and reimagines how cultural institutions can better serve the communities in which they are based; Annie Baker, a playwright known for upending expectations of the kinds of people, language, and situatinos worthy of theatrical interpretation; and Njideka Akunyili Crosby, a figurative painter whose work aims to visualize the hybrid reality of the immigrant experience. To learn more about these incredible individuals, read on HERE.

Last Da Vinci Painting in Private Hands to be Sold at Auction

Believed to be the last piece by Leonardo da Vinci in private hands, the “Salvator Mundi” is set to sell at a Christie’s auction in November for roughly $100 million. Made around 1500 and presumed lost until early this century, the painting is a portrait of Jesus Christ, and is about 500 years older than anything that typically appears in the auction. The work has been at the center of a variety of legal complaints and international art-dealer disagreements. Ultimately, it ended up in Milan earlier this year, shown at the Museo del Novecento from March through May. The auction house unveiled the work in a flashy press conference at Christie’s New York headquarters at Rockefeller Center, press members jostled to capture a picture on their phones–Christie’s said it had never staged such an unveiling before. The painting will tour Christie’s flagships around the world before returning to New York to be sold at the postwar and contemporary art auction on November 15 of this year. It will certainly be interesting to see what it sells for!

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