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“Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye” at the Tate Modern.
David Franchi – Saturday, 10th November 2012.
“was a forerunner”
The exhibition “Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye”, at the Tate Modern, arrives at the right time just after the record breaking auction of “The Scream”.
Perhaps everyone in the world has heard, at least once in his life, about the so often used “The Scream”. Therefore, no surprise in May 2012 a copy of “The Scream” (1895) has been sold at Sotheby’s, in New York, for $119.9 million, a record price never before reached for an artwork.
However, Edvard Munch is one of the less understood artists of the story. The Tate Modern exhibition examines his work from the 20th century, including sixty paintings, many from the Munch Museum in Oslo, with a rare showing of his films and photographs.
Munch is often seen as a 19th-century Symbolist painter, lost in his loneliness with difficulties in relating to people. The Tate Modern exhibition shows how he engaged with modernity and was inspired by the everyday life outside of his studio such as street scenes and incidents reported in the media – including “The House is Burning” (1925 – 27), a sensational view of a real life event with people fleeing the scene of a burning building.
Edvard Munch was affected by a number of dreadful events in his life. In his childhood, he faced the death of his mother and of his elder sister both for tuberculosis. A younger sister was diagnosed with mental illness. Munch’s father was the son of a priest, a doctor and medical officer, almost a fanatic religious. Munch wrote about him: “My father was temperamentally nervous and obsessively religious—to the point of psychoneurosis. From him I inherited the seeds of madness. The angels of fear, sorrow, and death stood by my side since the day I was born.”
It is not surprise, then, Munch was suffering depression, and was also an alcoholic who needed to be hospitalised. Besides,
past experiences gave him a sense of unfitness about family. He considered women as peacefulness or ominous, and he never got engaged.
When in Oslo, Munch was friend with nihilist and bohemian Hans Jæger. Munch said: “My ideas developed under the influence of the bohemians or rather under Hans Jæger. Many people have mistakenly claimed that my ideas were formed under the influence of Strindberg and the Germans…but that is wrong. They had already been formed by then.”
Philosophers Kierkegaard and Schopenhauer contributed to the development of Munch’s art. But, above all was Nietzsche who confirmed Munch ideas about women. These aspects could have been better explored at “Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye”.
Painting is a sort of self –therapy for Munch, who tried to understand life existence. With this approach he could realise masterpieces, such as Anxiety, Puberty, Jealousy, The Scream and Madonna.
“The Sick Child” is central at “Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye”, expressing the artist’s spleen. It depicts Munch’s sister in the last moments of her life. This work has still a realistic style, but it anticipates his future approach.
In 1892, in fact, Edvard Munch inaugurated a new style, which created such a debate in Germany, that later brought to the Berlin Secession, to which he adhered.
Munch was born in Norway (12th December 1863 – 23rd January 1944) and studied in Paris. However, he spent so much time in Berlin, that someone could consider him an influential German painter rather than Norwegian.
Today the Scandinavian noir sensibility is fashion. Munch was a forerunner. He was asking himself: “Why I am not like the others?” underlining his difficulties in relating to other people and his destroying melancholy. He was so innovative, not everyone was able to understand, but the more open intellectuals of North Europe, including Ibsen, Strindberg and Meier-Graefe.
During the years, Munch style changed. On display at “Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye” there were different version of the same piece, that have been painted during the years. Therefore, it is possible to see the transformation of the technique Munch used, adapting his style to new media such as photography or film. The show also examines how Munch often repeated a single motif over a long period of time in order to re-work it, as can be seen in the different versions of his most celebrated works, such as “The Sick Child” (1885–1927) and “Girls on the Bridge” (1902–27).
At Tate Modern exhibition, in the photographic self-portraits Munch always has a gloomy expression, showing a rough character. Munch’s use of prominent foregrounds and strong diagonals reference the technological developments in cinema and photography at the time. Creating the illusion of figures moving towards the spectator, this visual trick can be seen in many of Munch’s most innovative works such as “Workers on their Way Home” (1913–14). He was also keenly aware of the visual effects brought on by the introduction of electric lighting on theatre stages and used this to create striking effect in works such as “The Artist and his Model” (1919–21).
Like other painters such as Bonnard and Vuillard, Munch adopted photography in the early years of the 20th century and largely focused on self-portraits, which he obsessively repeated. In the 1930s he developed an eye disease and made poignant works which charted the effects of his degenerating sight.
Tate Modern’s exhibition does not add more to Munch. Besides, Tate Modern exhibition is not a life retrospective of Munch, but rather it explores his life in late years as never has been done before. It has few masterpieces and does not display paintings only but more other materials. Tate Modern exhibition sheds a different light on the private life of Munch which is, of course, strictly interwoven with his artistic production. More for experts, it could be appreciated by all.
From 28th June until 14th October 2012.
At Tate Modern, Southbank, London.