Talk about alternative realities. When Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Sebastian Smee calls Manet’s painting “Olympia” the Mona Lisa of modern times, you may be persuaded. Resist. His claim warrants an argument.

What's the link-up?

Why, you might ask, is a woman laying on a bed wearing nothing but a black neck ribbon, high-heeled slippers, and hibiscus in her hair a modern Mona Lisa?

Smee made his modern-Mona claim in the Washington Post to advance the Met’s show “Manet/Degas” opening Sept. 24. There are 150 paintings in his show. Smee singled out “Olympia” as the big draw.

Granted, the painting has come to the U.S. for the first time. So, there’s that. But the question remains, why call attention to Olympia as a modern Mona? Where’s the equivalency? The differences between these works are plain to see.

Mona Lisa was an actual person. Olympia was not. Instead, she was Manet favorite model Victorine Meursent posing as a prostitute. Then there's the nudity of one and not the other.

Smee freely acknowledges these differences. He even points out that Olympia is not the usual nude female seen ad nauseam in art history. But those that came before were made to look real with gradations of tone from light to dark. Manet purposely left out such tones.

To Smee’s credit, he rightly explained that Manet omitted dark and light to make Olympia less three-dimensional and therefore less a sexual object.

The very flatness of her image demonstrates that this artist was telling you the nude you see is not an actual woman.

So, good for Manet. And good for Smee for conceding these differences between Mona and Olympia. At this point you’re probably wondering what’s left to say to link these two paintings? Snee’s answer: the tie that binds is the facial expression.

Never mind that the expressions differ. Never mind that unlike Mona, Meurent is not smiling. Both paintings have the same focus: their facial expression.

Is that really it?

But wait. Isn’t calling Olympia a modern Mona like calling, say, Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear” a modern “Girl with the Pearl Earring” by Vermeer?

After all, both paintings focus on the same thing – the ear?

And by Smee’s logic why not also say that Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait with flowers in her hair is a modern “Olympia” owing to the hibiscus worn in her hair?

Silly talk

Obviously, when Smee calls Olympia the modern Mona, he seeks to edify Manet’s painting in the belief that Da Vinci’s painting is a great work. But Is it? I’d call it a great landscape that a lumbering Mona gets in the way of.

Then there’s this: the Met’s pitch for the exhibit “Manet/Degas” never mentions “Olympia.” Instead, the museum website touts the friendship between the two artists as “the most significant artistic dialogue in modern art history.” As if that mattered.