Saturday, 28 July 2012

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye - Tate Modern, London

19th July 2012

This exhibition is on show in Tate Modern until 14 October 2012. 

Munch ‘The Scream’ has often been in the news. Munch made several copies of this work and one came up for auction recently.  One of the Oslo paintings has been stolen more than once and this has only increased the Munch name to a much larger audience. 

Several years ago I was at a private view of a major Munch exhibition in the National Gallery.  The Scream was on show with much of Munch other works.  I still have the catalogue somewhere.  I was sighted at the time. 

I had visited Oslo in midsummer and in December when sighted and the contrast between the two seasons reminded me of the north of Scotland during the same periods.  Since I lost my sight, I had visited Oslo for a long weekend in the early summer, when the days were getting longer, though it was still rather cold on the Oslo fjord. 

Munch had a standard Scandinavian outlook if one believes in stereotypes.  Studying plays by Ibsen and Strindberg makes one dismiss some dark detective stories popular on TV just now as lightweight.  Munch had many problems over health, family and his failing eyesight.  I was particularly interested in this aspect.  Marcus Dickey Horley from Tate sent me the room guides and picture labels in advance and I could work out rooms of interest.  These centred on his reworking of paintings, self portraits, theatre work with Max Reinhardt for the Berlin Kammerspiele over Ibsen’s Ghosts and the eye drawings.

Room 1

This room had many small artworks, including self-portraits and photographs.  The photographic work is too small to make out much.  There is an old clip of a black & white film and a longer reel in a darker area.  Some works which I enjoyed and discussed were:

X42024  self-portrait
X42025  self- portrait
X41983  self-portrait

Room 2

This room is laid out with reworkings of paintings as if they were placed opposite.  Initially we zigzagged across the room to compare and contrast.  Eventually we followed the perimeter of the room. 

X41712  The Girls on a Bridge
X40573  The Girls on a Bridge

The Girls on a Bridge is a famous theme of Munch, with the colours of the dresses being almost discernable to me against the bridge and the background trees and shrubs.

X40572  The Sick Child
N05035  The Sick Child

The Sick Child is another theme of Munch, considering some of his close family died from tuberculosis.

X40571  Kiss on the Shore by Moonlight
X40566  Kiss on the Shore by Moonlight

X41982  Ashes
X41984  Ashes

X40585  Two Human Beings, the lonely ones
X41839  as above, cordoned off

Room 3

Very small pictures

Room 4

Munch had been experimenting with cameras and distortions of perspectives and as this section is called Optical Space, it was interesting to note how my peripheral vision picked up some of the lines.  One sensed the horses coming at one; the workers leaving en masse put one in the frame; and the The Yellow Log provoked a remark: “Ah, Hockney!” from both of us, much in the same manner as one would say: “Ah, Larkin!” whenever Hull University is mentioned.  (Ref. Alan Bennett and The History Boys)

X40626  Galloping Horse
X40623  Thorvald Lochen – angular
X40630  Red Virginia Creeper
X40945  Street in Asgardstrand – girl bottom centre
X40631  Murder on the Road – face at bottom
X40627  The Yellow Log
X40629  New Snow in the Avenue
X40624  Workers on Their Way Home
X40628  On the Operating Table

Room 5

This is a section on Stage.  I had been looking forward to this but found some of the background on the set design rather off putting and nothing like as pleasing as Picasso or even Hockney for that matter.  These are the paintings depicting the setting of Ibsen’s play Ghosts (which I haven’t seen performed on the stage itself). 

The rooms have odd angles making distorted cubes and a really unsettling wallpaper, which is a recurring theme showing some deterioration in Munch’s vision.  I sometimes get strange patterns when faced with old-fashioned anaglypta wall coverings, where the seams of the paper had been badly laid out producing strange lines.

X40670  Man and Woman by the Window with Potted Plants
X40583  Puberty
X40669  Man and Woman – cramped
X40672  The Artist and his Model
X40668  The Murdered
X40635  To the Sweet Young Girl
X40630  Jealousy
X42258  Death Room

Room 6

Weeping Woman -  5 of them!
X40678 is one of them
Also a sculpture

Room 10

X40705  The House is Burning
X40706  The Splitting of Faust
X40708  The Fight
X40707  The Fight
X40709  Uninvited Guests
X41966  Street Workers in the Snow – wire around
X40710  Sailors in the Snow

Room 7

Very small photos

Room 8

Starry Night is a well-known painting and I could make out the stars.  There is also a head in the lower part of the painting, though the body has a shadow projecting into the centre.  This is a very nice composition.

X40695  Man with a Sledge
X40696  The Sun
X40701  Kristian Schreiner Standing
X40699   Starry Night – head and shadow showing
X40693  Children in the Street

Room 12

X40733  Portrait in Bergen
X40734  The Night Wanderer
X40735  Self-portrait with Bottles
X40737  Self-portrait
X40738  Self-portrait between the Clock and the Bed
X40565  Self-portrait with the Spanish Flu
X42324  Man with Bronchitis

Room 11

This room has many ‘disturbing’ pictures of Munch ‘reflecting’ on his deteriorating vision after suffering a haemorrhage in his right eye in 1930.  The haemorrhage was in his good eye and thus increased the distortion, as he painted both himself and his eye in quite close detail. 

My friend found it rather disturbing watching me take a close interest in the paintings of Munch’s eyes.  This friend of mine has known me as a sighted person and probably thought my ‘seeing’ these pictures would be disturbing.   Munch has painted many extraneous lines which people with impaired vision sometimes get on good vision days and bad vision days.  These are distortions caused by the brain trying to interpret different information in good eye / worse eye conflict.

It would be interesting if Tate Modern, the RNIB and perhaps The Royal College of Ophthalmologists could organise a short workshop based on perceptions of vision.  Several ophthalmologists have voiced their own opinions on sight loss to me over the last 11 years and one sometimes gets the impression in some blind charities that they do not always appreciate the broad spectrums of sight loss and how it affects cognitive function.  Such a symposium may put art, medicine and the visually impaired on a better balance.  If you agree with this, lobby your eye clinic, art gallery and blind charity. 

X41989  Self-portrait with Wounded Eye
X40740  Disturbed Vision
X40747  Artist’s Injured Eye
X42276  Disturbed Vision
X40749  Artist’s Injured Eye
X40756  Artist’s Injured Eye
X40754  Artist’s Injured Eye


This is a very interesting, though disturbing, exhibition as it reflects many dark themes.  There is a lot to appreciate in this exhibition which has been “organised by the Centre Pompidou, Musee national d’art moderne, Paris in cooperation with the Munch Museum in Oslo and in association with Tate Modern, London.”

Postcards that I bought include:

The Girls on the Bridge 1927
Oil on canvas

New Snow in the Avenue 1906
Oil on canvas

Street in Asgardstrand 1901
Oil on canvas

The Yellow Log 1912
Oil on canvas

Starry Night 1922-4
Oil on canvas

Self-portrait 1895
Lithographic crayon, tusche and scraper

The original paintings are in the Munch-museet in Oslo.

Travel tip:
The Bank side exit from Blackfriars has lifts operating from both north and south tracks down to the ticket hall.  Though there is still construction work on the doubling of the Thameslink, access to the Embankment is straightforward and the Tate Bank side turbine hall can be reached after a short walk downstream, keeping the river on your left hand side.