Sunday, June 2, 2013

Edvard Munch: A 150th Anniversary Tribute

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: through July 28, 2013

I had very high expectations going in to this exhibit.  I was anticipating a large, multi-room show and the opportunity to see "The Scream," that oft-stolen, iconic picture that says so much about the human condition and sells so many magnets, tote bags, mugs, etc.

Imagine my surprise to find that this is a one-room affair, and that "The Scream" is a lithograph, not one of the paintings.  I did some research after I returned from the show and found that there are really four painted versions of "The Scream," two of which have been stolen.  In addition, there are lithographs that were made from the original wood print, not a lot of them, but more than four.  The lithograph is quite small and not terribly colorful, but does have that haunting quality that no amount of commercialization can quite remove from the work.  I did find myself thinking, "This is it?  This little drawing is it?"  Hence the reason I did the research.

"This is it?" would describe my reaction to the whole show - I liked what I saw, but there's just not much to see.  Probably the best part of the show is a series of paintings called "Two Women on a Shore."  The series allows you to see the different ways in which Munch colored this image - some were darker and some were lighter, although I wouldn't call any of them light, in the sense of being carefree.  One women stands on a beach, with another woman behind her.  In later versions, the standing woman's hair gets redder and redder (the color of blood?), while the other woman becomes more and more skeletal.  Even in the earlier versions, I thought the other woman was meant to represent death, and she doesn't get cheerier as the versions progress.

Other works that I liked included "Puberty," which is a teenage girl covering herself with her arms, her face a picture of bewilderment - you can practically feel her fear and shame coming through the paper.  A mysterious figure seems to emerge from her side - like a dark spirit.  "Self-Portrait with Skeleton Arm" made me think that Munch was concerned with his own demise and eventual loss of ability - there's not much art work you can produce with a skeleton arm.

"Vampire" is a work I'd seen at the National Gallery's last Munch show several years ago.  It's an interesting play on the usual vampire story (young girl ravaged by male vampire, out to suck her blood), as the victim is a man and the vampire is a woman - who is sporting red hair, no surprise there.

Verdict: If you go in expecting a small exhibit, and realize that you'll be seeing a lithograph of "The Scream" and not one of the paintings, you'll find this worthwhile.  I think my disappointment was the result of thinking I was going to see a different kind of show.

No comments:

Post a Comment