Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye is a major exhibition which will radically reassess the work of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944). It will propose a ground breaking dialogue between the artist’s paintings and drawings made in the first half of the 20th century and his often overlooked interest in the rise of other media during that time, including photography, film and the re-birth of stage production.
Few other modern artists are better known and yet less understood than Munch. He is often presented primarily as a 19th century painter, a Symbolist or a pre-Expressionist, but this exhibition will aim to show instead how he emphatically engaged with 20th century concerns that were thoroughly representative of the modernity of the age. It will feature around sixty carefully-selected paintings and fifty photographs, alongside his lesser-known filmic work. These will reveal Munch’s interest in current affairs and how his paintings were inspired by scenes he had observed in the street or incidents reported in the press or on the radio. Far from confining himself to the studio, he frequently worked outdoors to capture scenes of everyday life.
Organised in close cooperation with the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Munch Museet in Oslo, the show will also examine how Munch often reworked and repeated a single motif. It will gather together numerous versions of his most celebrated works, such as The Sick Child 1885-1927 and Puberty 1886-1916, from collections including the Gothenberg Konstmuseum and the Nasjonalmuseet, Oslo. Like other painters such as Bonnard and Vuillard, Munch adopted photography in the early years of the 20th century and his photographic activities were largely focused on self-portraiture, which he obsessively restaged and reworked. Self-portraits also lay at the heart of Munch’s painted oeuvre. In the 1930s he developed an eye disease and made poignant works which charted the effects of his degenerating sight. His last work, which will be on display, was one such self-portrait.
The use of prominent foregrounds and strong diagonals are among the formal qualities which particularly distinguish Munch’s work. These clearly reference the advancing technological developments in cinema and photography of the era. Creating the illusion of actors moving towards the spectator, as if looming out from a cinema screen, this pictorial device can be seen in many of Munch’s most innovative works such as On the Operating Table 1902-03 and The Yellow Log 1912 from the Munch Museet, Oslo. Munch was also keenly aware of the visual effects brought on by the introduction of electric lighting on theatre stages, and used this to create ethereal drama in, for example, his 1907 Green Room series. The theme of the duality of presence and erasure is further explored elsewhere in his work, where matter takes on an ephemeral or ghostlike appearance in key works such as The Sun 1913-15 and Starry Night 1922-24.
The exhibition will be curated by Nicholas Cullinan, Curator of International Modern Art at Tate Modern. The exhibition will be presented at Centre Pompidou, Paris from September 2011 to January 2012 and Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt from February to May 2012.