James Lileks
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Protesters threw soup at the Mona Lisa last week in Paris. It is not known whether they also tossed saltine crackers. The painting was protected by glass, so the only damage suffered was to the protestrs' reputation.

These are unwise people. It gets attention for their cause, but not the right kind. Walking up to someone and giving them a wet willie while shouting "Save the Oxford comma!" makes them aware of the Oxford comma, yes. But the next time someone brings up the Oxford comma, they'll think of a stranger's wet finger in their ear, and think, "You know, to hell with that extra comma. It's an affectation we can lose."

This isn't the first time attention-seekers have attempted to vandalize great art, and it makes you wish people could carry soup to the museum so they could throw soup on the soup-flingers. As a protest!

But no one who sees the vandals set up their little tableau ever do anything about it. I'd like to think that if I saw someone about to dash a can of Campbell's Chunky at the Mia's lovely "Temptation" by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, I'd do something. I'd stand in their way, ready to take the onslaught of mushy vegetables and salty soup square in the kisser.

Or we could knock the can out of their hand. But people don't do that, because they're afraid they'll be charged with assault. That's vigilante justice! That's what cops are for! Fine. Go ahead, you see someone about to toss soup at the Mia, call 911, and I'm sure the Art Police will crash through the skylights on rappel lines before the vandal cocks his arm back, but I'm not taking any chances.

If you could imagine some classic, mythical, passive-aggressive Minnesotans contemplating such an atrocity, it would look quite different.

"Members of the direct-action advocacy group Just Say Doncha No appeared to escalate their protests at the Minneapolis Institute of Art today. The group first came to public attention when they laid a Tater Tot hot dish on the floor below the famous Rembrandt painting to call attention to the plight of women who agree to fill in for someone in the church basement after services, week after week, because Betsy can't get her act together. The hot dish caused no damage. A guard attempted to remove it, but was instructed that it was hot, so here, use these mitts.

"It was suspected that the group also had thrown cream of mushroom soup at the museum's Willem de Kooning, but that turned out be the way the painting looked anyway.

"The latest protest involved the museum's famous lion sculptures on the portico, which were daubed with batter used to fry walleye. After a brief statement, the group cleaned the statues while their husbands waited in the car."

I know, it's ridiculous, and would never happen, but if Betsy doesn't step up, it might.

As for the Paris vandals, many people have been demanding jail time, pour encourager les autres. Maybe. But I'd require them to spend a year guarding the famous Andy Warhol painting, to keep someone from throwing the Mona Lisa at it.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks