Museum Exhibitions, Writing

Munch: Navigating the messiness of his own present

The Munch exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, curated by Jay A. Clarke, brings together approximately 150 works, including 75 paintings and 75 works on paper by Munch and his peers. It is organized around the following themes: loneliness and solitude, the street, anxiety, love and sexuality, death and dying, the bather, and nature.

In the NY Times, Roberta Smith writes that the exhibition shows Munch navigating the messiness of his own present.

“Most of Munch�s figures are not mad, but paralyzed by oceanic feelings of grief, jealousy, desire or despair that many people found shocking either for their eroticism, crude style or intimations of mental instability. We see his subjects alone, in couples or small groups in settings whose opulent colors and odd forms, whether indoors or out, are always removed from reality, located in some artificial, stripped down place where color, feeling and form resonate in visual echo chambers….The exhibition leaves no doubt about Munch�s singularity as a giant of the imagination and of modernism. Several artists here � Max Klinger for example � vacillate all over the dial from academic to radical. Munch simply broke the dial. His disdain for normal technique and finish, his love of long, somewhat slurpy brush strokes that were more stained than painted, made all the difference. They enable him to give new voice to the rawest emotions, to be dramatic without sentimentality, and to fuse process, subject and content. Revealing the context of the outer Munch, this extraordinary show only intensifies our appreciation of the inner one, by making his emotional honesty and his radical approach to painting all the more obvious and undeniable.”

Chicago Tribune critic Alan G. Artner calls the Munch exhibition,

“among the institute’s finest of the last 30 years, reminding us again that while its strengths in other periods have been considerable, few museums in the United States have matched the depth and breadth of its efforts on behalf of art of the 19th Century….Munch alone makes for a deep experience. But then the show includes as many works by major and minor contemporaries. So every theme is not just represented but explored. And for each piece by a familiar artist, such as Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Claude Monet, there is at least one counterpart by an artist known to Munch but new to us. Anna Ancher, Harriet Backer, Jean Charles Cazin, Magnus Enckell, Hans Heyerdahl, Christian Krohg, Eilif Peterssen�these are only some of the artists with whom he showed kinship. Each of their works gets a substantial entry in the exhibition catalog, but if you look closely at wall labels, you’ll also see where they were exhibited or published and, thus, how Munch himself encountered them.”

Becoming Edvard Munch: Influence, Anxiety, and Myth,”curated by Jay A. Clarke. Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Through April 26.

One Comment

  1. I hope they didn’t paint the walls black. The last large Munch show I attended, some years ago, had all the walls painted black, seriously robbing the pictures of vital ambient light and actually distorting colour values in them.

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