Monday, 23 July 2012

Edvard Munch at the Tate Modern

New Snow in the Avenue, 1906

This is my review of Edvard Munch exhibition at the Tate Modern, which is on now and runs until October. I went a couple of weeks ago. It's good enough to tempt me to go again before it ends.

One of the reviews that I read before I turned up at the exhibition said - "There's more to Munch than The Scream". It was a good review.  [Fisun Guner's review] 

I would have gone to the exhibition anyway, but this review got me in there on the first Friday evening that I was free. 
It's true. There is more the Munch than The Scream [although this exhibition doesn't have any of the Scream paintings]. When you walk into these galleries the paintings scream at you - "I'm a Munch, I'm a Munch, ...".

There is a style of painting, which The Scream exemplifies, that is apparent across the whole of this collection (including the image shown here). Swirly lines; Bold colours; Satutated colours; Definite edges to the colours; Realistic images with the contemporary impressionist edge. 

I love these paintings. They're big. They're bold. They're in a class of their own. Munch seems to have been isolated from the contemporary developments in Paris and New York and better for it. A little ahead of his time, perhaps.

One of the interesting aspects of Munch, as clearly reflected in this exhibition, is that he repeated a lot of stuff. So we have on show here many alternative tries at the same painting. His dying sister. A naked model standing by her bed. Three girls on a bridge.

There is also something familiar across all his paintings. Apart from the boldness of colour, there is the unusual use of perspective. The review that I mentioned, referred to it as exaggerated. To me the exaggeration looks like the kind of foreshortening that you get with the use of a telephoto lens. It's very effective in Munch's hands.

As you reach the end of the exhibition you encounter some of Munch's amateur photography and amateur film making, which helps put the man in context [he looks like my grandfather, and his garden looks like my grandfather's garden]. His experimental approach is refreshing.

You also encounter his obsession with his damaged vision. He paints images [watercolours] that are attempts to capture the coloured effects he sees within his eye, caused by the haemorrhage that damage his sight late in life. These paintings are much more charming than you might expect. Childlike. Much more Modern than his principal output. They probably have little value other than as historical documents, except that they will make other artists wonder, what was he thinking?

They made me wonder if he hadn't had bad vision from the beginning of his career.

His exaggerated perspective is the kind of image that someone looking down a tunnel might see. But that is mere speculation.

I seldom go to a pay-for exhibition more than once [although I did go to the Richter twice last year]. I'm sorely tempted to go back to the Munch and spend a little more time comparing the different versions of some of his paintings, now that I have had some time to reflect on the consequences. I feel I still have a lot to gain from that.

Also, it wasn't until after I had been to the exhibition that I read Laura Cumming's review in The Observer. I wondered if she hadn't been to a different exhibition. She find's much more emotional content than I did, which must be because she clearly knows a lot about Munch. But now that I've understood her view, I want to test it in the gallery. So I guess another expensive visit is a must.