The artist discusses the enduring allure of the “Mona Lisa,” the puzzle of celebrity, and which famous people she would invite to dinner.
If celebrity is measured by the amount of time that one has spent being observed and photographed from behind cordons, by the volume and variety of memes that one has inspired, and by the urge that strangers have to throw cake at one’s heavily valued person, then this week’s cover subject, the “Mona Lisa,” might be among the biggest stars of them all. For the themed Archival Issue, which considers celebrities and our fascination for them, Anita Kunz has created a cheeky modern take on the iconic painting. I recently talked to the artist about her complicated relationship to her famous subjects.
As a longtime illustrator for magazines, do you keep up with celebrity gossip?
Not really. When I browse media these days, I’m surprised at how few of today’s celebrities I am familiar with! I used to do a lot of celebrity portraits for magazines, but I was never as interested in the people themselves as I was in the concept of celebrity. Why do we make them famous? Why do we care? Many of them seem to have little value to society—it’s always been a puzzle to me.
Have you ever hung out with famous people?
Not really, but once I attended a magazine party with lots of very famous faces in the crowd. Suddenly, there was a burst of flashbulbs: Donald and Ivana Trump had entered. They stood around for photos for a few minutes and left. It was as though they were there just showing everyone how famous they were; celebrity for celebrity’s sake—totally orchestrated. At the time, it was quite funny since he really didn’t warrant that sort of attention. He was a developer and there were so many much more notable people in the room.
What do you think makes the “Mona Lisa” such a good celebrity?
Maybe it has to do with her mystery, and certainly with that famous smile. Her portrait seems to ask more questions than it answers—she has appealed to different people in different ways through the years.
If you could have dinner with three famous people, who would they be?
I have done a lot of public speaking through the years and I still get very nervous. It’s not a natural state for me. I’m quite happy if my work does the talking for me. I’m so used to working in my studio by myself!