Edvard Munch’s The Scream is one of the most recognised works of art in the world — even the Simpsons has parodied it. One version of it recently sold at auction for £74 million. But ask most people to name another work by Munch and they’re likely to be at a loss.
The Tate Modern’s latest blockbuster exhibition doesn’t contain a version of the Scream, as it would be near impossible to obtain, but it does explore Munch’s life and his art. It features Munch’s exploration with the then-new mediums of photography and film. Though these are interesting asides, far too much exhibition space has been dedicated to them, considering that they pale in comparison to his paintings.
Munch’s technique of deliberately concealing facial details in his paintings is designed to unsettle the viewer and, coupled with their ambiguous titles, they raise many questions. In ‘Vampire’ the man and woman seem to be embracing in a consolatory hug but the title suggests that she is feeding off him. A couple are kissing so passionately that their faces melt into one another. Is this romantic or creepy? Are the girls on the bridge with their backs to us merely watching the river or contemplating throwing themselves in?
Munch revels in this concealment but he is also able to bring out emotive expressions when he chooses — the workers trudging home at the end of the day have the haggard look of people who have just been released from a prisoner of war camp.
Even without the Scream, this exhibition shows us that Munch is a master of both conveying and concealing emotions in his paintings. Thus he is able to engage the viewer and immerse them in his brooding and often ambiguous world.
Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye is at Tate Modern until 14 October. Tickets are £14, concessions available.
The excellent retrospective of Damien Hirst is also on at the Tate Modern until 9 September.