Chicago museum reveals lively and grim Edvard Munch

Fri Feb 13, 2009 12:19pm EST
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By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Edvard Munch's 1893 painting, "The Scream," has come to symbolize the anxiety of modern life, and the artist himself was frequently cast as insanely preoccupied by death, sickness and longing.

At times, Norway's greatest artist lived up to the neurotic, tortured characterization and exhibited works that scandalized critics.

But Munch's art and his life, the subjects of a new exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago through April 26, reveal a savvy and searching artist who tapped into evolving European motifs and Nordic myths to portray contemporary society's prevailing moods and inner psyche.

In putting together "Becoming Edvard Munch: Influence, Anxiety, and Myth," which opens on Saturday, museum curator Jay Clarke said she dispelled the image of Munch as a socially aberrant artist.

Opening the show of some 150 works by Munch and his contemporaries is a self-portrait with the artist's penetrating yet calm gaze emerging from the haze of smoke from a cigarette. In the late 19th century, the painting's brushwork and casual quality were condemned as immoral and bohemian.

"If you painted in this open, free style, this hectic manner, there was an idea that it connected to moral degeneracy," Clarke said.

"Of course, I'm sure Munch was no hotbed of mental health," she said, noting his alcoholism and paranoia.

But Munch clearly had his wits about him when he wrote to his aunt how amusing he found it that his art at an introductory 1892 Berlin show could so scandalize the public that it was shut down.   Continued...

<p>Undated file photograph released by the Munch Museum in Oslo shows the original version of Edvard Munch's painting The Scream. REUTERS/Scanpix/Munch-Museum handout</p>