Monday, 10 September 2012

Snapping up the Munch bunch

Almost 20 years after the last major Edvard Munch retrospective in London - at the National Gallery - the Norwegian artist is being celebrated at Tate Modern until 14 October. The National Gallery show was based on the Frieze of Life series and the Tate exhibition also emphasises the cycles in Munch's work, more successfully than for Gerhard Richter in its recent blockbuster.

The emphasis does shift between the National Gallery and Tate shows, and not just because the former included a version of The Scream - notably from the figure of Tulla Larsen, with whom Munch had a relationship from 1899 to 1902, to Rosa Meissner, a model who came from Berlin in 1907, along with her sister, Olga. And while the exhibition at the National Gallery was preoccupied with an incident in which Munch accidentally shot himself after an argument with Tulla (presumably the source of the X-ray of a bullet in Munch's hand, which goes unexplained at the Tate), the Tate survey concentrates on an incident at a party when the artist threatened to shoot a younger artist, Ludvig Karsten.

While the National Gallery catalogue contains contemporary photographs of Munch's exhibitions, the Tate makes much more of the artist's photographs, in line with the current vogue. The main exhibit could be said to be a photograph of Rosa Meissner naked in a room, which inspired the series Weeping Woman. (Interested in auras and spiritualism - as well as blurs and odd angles - Munch creates a spooky shadow in the photo, reminiscent of Francesca Woodman's self-portraits, although the spectre is Rosa's sister, Olga.)

'Edvard Munch belongs to a generation of artists - that of Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, Félix Vallotton... and others - all born around 1860, who achieved their first stylistic maturity in the final two decades of the nineteenth century, at the time of the great boom in amateur photography,' writes Clément Chéroux in the Tate catalogue. This overlaps with a recent exhibition, 'Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard', whose companion published by Easton is well worth snapping up, however: 'What fundamentally distinguishes Munch from the other painters who practised photography at the same time is the quantity of self-portraits he produced.'

Many of them are included in this exhibition; they form a sort of autobiography. While he painted himself with deliberation in such wonderful works as Between the Clock and the Bed (1940-3) - one of my favourite self-portraits of any artist - in these snaps he seems to have been looking for answers to questions he didn't know how to pose.

Though the National Gallery may have presented visitors with the broader survey of Munch's work, this great show at Tate Modern has touches of Paul Gauguin, 'who Munch considered to be the greatest artist of his time' (Arne Eggum in the Tate catalogue) - see Red Virginia Creeper (1898-1900) - and Vallotton (check out the shapes in The Kiss, 1897, or the figures in the doorway of Jealousy, 1907, inspired by Munch's unhappy relationship with Tulla Larsen). His influence can even be found, more recently, in the work of another wonderful storyteller: Peter Doig - compare Ashes and Summer Night's Dream: The Voice with Doig's Echo Lake (1998) and 100 Years Ago (Carrera), 2001.

No comments:

Post a Comment