09 March 2016

The Scream

"The Scream" Edvard Munch (1895)

“Munch and Expressionism,” the latest exhibit at the Neue Galerie, explores how the Norwegian Evard Munch influenced his German and Austrian contemporaries and German Expressionism. Included in the show are more than 80 paintings and works on paper by Munch and other artists like Max Beckmann, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Egon Schiele. This mix allows viewers to see shared themes of mortality, alienation, and anxiety and for Munch’s work to stand out. It's also refreshing to see a woman artist, Gabriele Munter, included; her painting “The Blue Gable” (1911) was one of my favourites in the show.

An exhibit of Munch wouldn’t be complete without his most famous work, The Scream, an iconic symbol of modern angst. Here the painting gets its own room, dark and cozy. Munch created four versions of “The Scream” yet the one on display, the 1895 version done in pastels, may be the most interesting. It’s the only one to have remained out of a museum and in private hands. It’s also the one that includes a poem painted on the frame by the artist that describes the origin of the work:

“I was walking along the road with two Friends / the Sun was setting – The Sky turned a bloody red / And I felt a whiff of Melancholy – I stood / Still, deathly tired – over the blue-black / Fjord and City hung Blood and Tongues of Fire / My Friends walked on – I remained behind / – shivering with Anxiety – I felt the great Scream in Nature – EM.”

 “The Scream” has been reproduced so many times that it’s become kitsch yet it’s striking to see in person, brighter than any postcard or poster. The strong strokes of colour have a feeling of urgency, as if the artist dashed off the work in a hurry. The oppressive orange sky, the seemingly endless bridge above the swirling blue water below, and the alien-like features of the figure in the forefront grab your attention, leaving you with a sense of unease.

“Munch and Expressionism” is at the Neue Galerie until June 13, 2016.

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