On the whole, Edvard Munch’s pictures have an uncanny ability to move people, striking a resonant chord and communicating directly to many. Even though our current understanding of Munch has changed from his own time, this is something that still applies. Part of what made Munch’s ambitions as a young artist so revolutionary was his desire to find a way to convey condensed emotions and moods, as he himself both knew such feelings himself and had witnessed them up close. But at the same time his pictures were meant to reverberate in his viewers – they were to be pictures of “the modern life of the soul”, as he put it.
It’s one thing to have something on one’s chest – it’s something else entirely to be able realise this as a work of art. Munch’s artistic training was relatively brief. He was in many ways self-taught and appropriated whatever it was he needed. What is it he does in his paintings that makes them so convincing? Showing a selection of some of Munch’s most resonant paintings from his entire sixty year long career, the exhibition Edvard Munch. Between the Clock and the Bed seeks to answer this very question. The exhibition only features paintings and is devoid of prints, drawings and photographs. Such a concentrated focus makes it possible to take a profound look at Munch’s identity as a painter.
In the exhibition we move from his early works – where he scrapes out the layers of surface paint as though the picture were some kind of unfinished, vulnerable skin – to paintings from the 1890s, where the paint has been so thinned out by turpentine and so lightly applied that the work almost resembles a watercolour. Munch was wont to let parts of the canvas remain unpainted or be visible through semi-translucent veils of colour. In later pictures from the 20th century we see how he both ramps up the chromatic intensity and lets the strokes of paint become independently communicative elements. It is striking how varied Munch worked on his painterly effects. Something else that defines him is how he kept experimenting with previous motifs in ever new ways so as to test out the inherent possibilities of painting.
In addition to this investigational and exploratory way of painting, Munch’s pictures are almost always driven by some type of drama that confronts the viewer. Such drama can also be more introverted, however, as in one of his latest works, Self-Portrait. Between the Clock and the Bed, which has given the exhibition its title.
The exhibition is a cooperation between the Munch Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.