April 08, 2006

Edvard Munch at MoMA

For those of you who haven't visited the "New" Museum of Modern Art yet, here's a good reason to go. For one more month, MoMA is presenting a fabulous retrospective of the paintings and graphics of Edvard Munch.

Although probably best known for his painting "The Scream", stolen 2 years ago from the Munch Museum in Oslo in a brazen daytime heist, this exhibition clearly shows that he was far more than a one-painting phenomenon.

Munch was born on a farm outside Kristiania (now Oslo) in 1863. His biography reads like a real-life soap opera with everything from losing his beloved mother to consumption at age 5, a heart-breaking love affair with a married woman, institutionalizations for alcoholism and nervous breakdowns, a bout with Spanish Influenza, and temporary blindness. The emotional impact of these events is clearly evident in his work. One can feel the quiet grief of "Death in the Sick Room", 1893, the sexual longing in "Summer Night's Dream (The Voice)", 1893, the angst of "The Storm", 1893, and the melancholia of "Despair", 1892 (pictured here). The tension is raised to an even higher level in the powerful "Madonna", 1894-5, and the terror of "The Scream" which, though not hanging in the exhibition, was in the mind's eye of every visitor.

All is not horror and tragedy in this show. Munch's later works were less explicitly psychological but still accurate portrayals of the human condition. His "Self Portrait with Cigarette" is a masterpiece in self-expression as is "Self-Portrait Between the Clock and the Bed", 1940-42.

Well represented were his graphic works - drawings in pencil and charcoal, as well as lithographs, aquatints and many beautiful woodcuts. Munch discovered early in his career that he had a facility for prints and that they offered greater profitability and more room for experimentation than oil painting. He continued to make prints until he died with "Kiss in the Field" an exquisitely simple yet powerful woodcut done in 1943.

Edvard Munch's works are not pretty, feel-good, pictures, but they are visually and emotionally stunning and should not be missed!

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