Archive for July 8, 2012

Munch at Tate Modern

Posted in Art, Biographical with tags , , , , , on July 8, 2012 by telescoper

On Friday I had the morning off from my stint at the Royal Society Summer Exhibition I mentioned a few days ago, so I took the short walk from my hotel to Tate Modern to see an exhibition of art by Edvard Munch called Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye.  Before seeing the collection, which is housed on the second floor of Tate Modern, I took a picture of the view from the balcony looking across the Thames from Bankside towards St Paul’s.

Not inappropriate weather for this exhibition!

Everyone knows Munch by his famous work The Screamwhich isn’t part of this exhibition. I don’t regret this omission it allows the visitor to focus on his lesser-known works, some of which I think are even more powerful than The Scream which, incidentally, I have seen when it was part of an exhibition of Munch’s work in Berlin in 1995. In fact I bought a poster of that exhibition, the design of which includes a copy of The Scream; it is hanging in my study as I write this.

The gallery’s booklet describes Munch’s paintings as

..profoundly introspective, unflinchingly depicting his experience of ageing, emotional turmoil, sickness and bodily decay.

Indeed. Some of the works are so powerful as to be almost unbearable to look at. I’ll just mention a few that struck me in particular.

One room is filled with a number of almost identical paintings entitled Weeping Woman, in which a naked female figure stands bowed and sobbing within a dreary claustrophobic room. The repetition of this theme across many canvases seems almost compulsive, and they’re painted with crude almost frantic strokes.

This is a painting called Red Virginia Creeper, a plant that grows on my house in fact, but which in this case has transformed into a dripping bloodstain behind the crudely drawn but obviously bewildered figure in the foreground.

But the most powerful works by Munch were made later in his life. He was born in 1863 (100 years before me) and suffered a complete nervous breakdown in 1908. Here is a self-portrait called The Night Wanderer, showing himself as a gaunt insomniac figure wandering around a darkened house:

Then, right at the end of the exhibition, is his most moving work of all. Self Portrait between Clock and Bed, painted near the end of his life – he died in 1944 – shows a lonely old man standing between the clock, symbolising the remorseless passage of time, and the bed in which he no doubt expected to die.

This exhibition is not exactly a comfortable experience, filled as it is with images of alienation, despair and inner torment, but it was a “must-see” for me as Munch is such an important artist. Groups of schoolchildren were being led around the exhibition while I was there. Most of them giggled. I wonder how long it will be before they understand that the world really can be exactly as Munch painted it?

Anyway, I headed back across the river to the Royal Society to do the afternoon shift at the Herschel Telescope stand, which included playing with an infra-red camera to show the visitors young and old how it detects body heat, and taking pictures of them in the near infra-red as souvenirs. To show that the Munch collection hadn’t affected me too much, I took one of myself.

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