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A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

 


 

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye

 

Edvard Munch
Starry Night 1922-1924
Munch Museum
© Munch Museum/Munch

 

 


Curated by Nicholas Bullinan and Shoair Mavlian

 


Tate Modern

 

28 June - 14 Oct. 2012

 

It’s the elephant in the room. Where is Edvard Munch’s The Scream? Parodied on T Shirts, mugs, T Towels and umbrellas this icon of the twentieth century is nowhere to be seen in the superb exhibition Edvard Munch: The Modern Eyeat Tate Modern. Except that is for the gift shop, and in the subtle and not so subtle representations in Munch’s other works, such as the extraordinary woodcut Panic in Oslo, 1917, or Red Virginia Creeper, Oil on Canvas, 1898 – 1900, in which figure’s,wide-eyed, stareout ‘straight to camera.’

An inveterate re-worker of key images – a sick child, girls on a bridge, a kiss, a vampire – Munch re-frames, re-visits, re-casts so that these images appear as a series of studies. Yet the known/familiar is always a crowd-puller. So where is The Scream?

The Modern Eye sets out to show Munch as part of the modern movement. So convincing is this thesis that Munch’s re-workings feel like emotional story-boards. The most compelling is the series of five paintings of the Weeping Woman, 1907 – 1909. They are theme variations: textures from rough to smooth, showing the extenuating detail of the woman’s lowered head or the room’s claustrophobic background, which demand that you review again. ‘Just as Leonardo Da Vinci studied anatomy and dissected corpses,’Munch said, ‘so I try to dissect souls.’ And none other than his own: through the revealing self-portraits. The first exquisitely painted in 1882, to his photographs in 1930. Munch made self-study his life’s work.

Yet there is something touching and wonder-filled in Munch’s experimentation with his camera. He moves it about when it should remain static. He favours the blurs and double exposures rather than factual representation. These new, experimental approaches found their way into his paintings: in his use of angles, perspective and foregrounding. These show disembodied heads against a mid-ground of bridges, roads or avenues, such as Murder on the Road, oil on canvas, 1919, or New Snow in the Avenue, oil on canvas, 1906, where the nursery-bookish red and blue hats, flecked with white snow, look as if they are about to disappear.

The exhibition features over sixty paintings and fifty photographs, alongside two extant films. Taken together they show Munch not just an exponent of the internal, but an advocate of the outdoors. Munch photographed some of his paintings outside in order to ‘toughen them up,’ as if by remaining inside, they are too thin-skinned for the world. Yet there is a grand pay-off in The Sun, Oil on Canvass, 1910 – 1913, which radiates energy and colour.

The rooms are themed like a collection of aide memoirs or intellectual post-its: Reworkings, On Stage, Compulsion, Dematerialisation, The Averted Eye, Unflinching Gaze. The paintings dazzle for sheer size, composition and movement. Galloping Horses, Oil on Canvass, 1910 – 1912, and Workers on Their Way Home, Oil on Canvass, 1913 – 1914, dominate. Yet two which are emotionally arresting are Ashes, viewed in Reworkings, Room 2 and Self-Portrait: Between the clock and the Bed, Room 12, Unfliching Gaze.

 

 

Edvard Munch
Self-Portrait: Between the Clock and the Bed 1940-1943
Munch Museum
© Munch Museum/Munch

 

 

Ashes is two oil paintings separated by thirty years, 1895, 1925. Yet see the difference a series of button holes makes: more vivid, more detail, more stories! The second was painted towards the end of his life 1940 – 1943. Munch stares out, in a full-length portrait between a tall clock and a bed. Flanked by symbols of death, his look recalls his other figure-heads in their exaggerated compositions, and in contrast, that first self-assured portrait, with its sharp three-quarter profile, from 1882.

Curated by Nicholas Bullinan and Shoair Mavlian, from Tate Modern, The Modern Eye is just that - a fresh, modern take. Certainly Munch’s paintings have fared better over time than some of his contemporaries, losing none of their lustre or vibrancy. But where is the biggest draw of them all? There are four extant variations of The Scream: two were stolen and then retrieved in 1994 and 2004, the third remains the property of a Norwegian Museum; and the fourth was recently sold in twelve minutes for $119.9m, £74m, at Sotheby’s, New York…..This is why there is no Screaming….

 

 

Edvard Munch
The Girls on the Bridge 1927
Munch Museum
© Munch Museum/Munch

 

 

 
 

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/edvard-munch-modern-eye

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

10:00 – 18:00 Sun – Thursday
Last admission 17:15
10:00 – 22:00 – Fri and Sat.

Tel: 020 7887 8888 (9:00 – 18:00 daily)