Edvard Munch and social networking – who’d have seen the connection? Well, Tate Modern have and in their new exhibition of Munch’s work, there is a large variety of snaps the artist took of himself; his face is usually turned away from the camera, like an aloof Facebook profile photo, and the curators speculate that these self-made shots are the first such images in photographic history.
Munch, author of the iconic Scream paintings, is usually viewed in terms of those fluidly rendered, emotionally-pulsating canvases that, ahem, “scream” turn-of-the-century Expressionism. Much of his career however took place throughout the first half of the 20th Century, and this is what the exhibition wishes to emphasise. The Scream works, moreover, have a history of being stolen at any given opportunity and are at the moment safely ensconced under extremely tight security in Oslo. Perhaps that’s for the best because it means that, in this case, the Norwegian artist’s other works have a chance to shine.
Contemporary visual culture profoundly affects our production and consumption of art – just think of all the digitally worked images we can publish so easily on the site, or the manner in which we “read” those photographs as unusual profilers, just because that is how we can relate to them. It was no different for Munch, whose career developed at a time of rapid technological advances, which he incorporated into his work.
Apart from a keen interest in photography, he was a big fan of the cinema – he used to take his dog to the movies and bought a film camera in 1927; a short film he then made with footage of Dresden, Oslo and Akar is on show, and is intriguing for its documentary elements as much as the sense that this once-thrilling technology is now almost redundant. Motion infuses much of the painted work, with figures appearing as if they’re about to emerge from the picture-plane, and the architectural elements, colourisation, and treatment of the widely varied subject-matter – from set design visualisations to local men clearing snow – is captivating. Not all doom and gloom, although yes, he definitely does that well.