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August 04 2012

Van Gogh to Kandinsky; Edvard Munch: Graphic Works; Picasso and Modern – review

Scottish National Gallery; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh

There is a painting in the Scottish National Gallery so ominous one cannot immediately shrug off the memory. It shows a grey stone colonnade in some nameless place stretching away into infinity. An esplanade on the right is depthless and deserted, more like dark water than land. The interior of the colonnade is an open tomb. The painting puts you on the spot, confronts you with its eerie perspective beneath a rain-laden sky that is not quite day and not quite night. But where exactly are you?

This startling watercolour is by the Belgian artist Léon Spilliaert. It was painted in 1908 in Ostend. You might wonder, as some have, whether it has something to do with those murderous times, when millions of Africans were slaughtered during Leopold I's reign in the Belgian Congo. And perhaps it carries deep overtones of horror and sorrow.

But it may also come from Spilliaert's own experience as a chronic insomniac who walked the streets of Ostend by night to distract himself from the pain of a stomach ulcer. His scenes are silent, monochromatic, empty of all human presence except his own wretched solitude; this is the art of a noctambulist.

Spilliaert's work is not often seen outside Belgium. Indeed many of the names in the tremendous Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1910 may be unfamiliar, since symbolist art of any sort has had mixed fortunes, and symbolist landscapes in particular. Indeed this is the first pan-European show, to my knowledge, and not the least thrill of it is the sight of the continent stretching out before you, from the Scandinavian fjords to la France profonde, from the ravines of Mallorca to the dark forests of Bavaria.

The facts of a landscape are never supposed to be the point for these artists – "don't paint the thing itself, paint the effect it produces" wrote the symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé – but one cannot help relishing the sight, and not just the sense, of place; the lakes of Finland, bright as mirrors, and the blue snows of the Eiger even in high summer.

As for the effect produced, it is almost overwhelmingly intense. More than a hundred paintings have been borrowed from museums across Europe, including masterpieces by Van Gogh, Munch, Arnold Böcklin, August Strindberg and James Ensor, and the mood plunges and soars by the room. It rises to ecstasy with Ensor's great vision of Christ Calming the Storm, in which sea and sky appear to unite in radiant meltdown; and it sinks into the most plangent gloom with the German painter Franz von Stuck's Evening Landscape, in which dark trees glower against the fading twilight.

Light, to adapt Manet, appears to be the main protagonist of the symbolist landscape. Indeed it is hard to see what else connects the works in this show. Symbolism is such a vague term – especially when it is made to stretch all the way from the Victorian visions of GF Watts to Paul Signac's pointillist arcadias – that it may be worth ignoring altogether in Edinburgh. It is self-evident that these landscapes are more than descriptions; that you're not just meant to admire the view.

But while it may be very clear that Léon Bakst's aerial view of an Aegean archipelago struck by lightning while a Greek statue breaks into a sinister grin must have the decline and fall of ancient civilisations in mind, it is less obvious that Spilliaert's art can be understood in terms of colonial politics. German symbolism, for instance, is routinely diagnosed as a reaction to Bismarck's modernised materialist state, but that doesn't begin to explain the immense variety of these German landscapes, from von Stuck's opalescent puddles at dusk to the island graveyards of Böcklin.

There are some real surprises in this exhibition. The reclusive Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi, master of the mysterious interior, steps out into the streets of Copenhagen to paint Amalienborg Square in the queerest of filtered brown shadows: out of time. There are passionately beautiful treescapes by Mondrian before he turned to abstraction. August Strindberg's harried surfaces seem to prefigure the art of Anselm Kiefer just as surely as many of the artists in the Silent Cities section get there before Giorgio de Chirico.

And there is a show within a show here, as well – a survey of landscape painting at its wildest. Vertical versus horizontal, near against far, the effects of close-up and cropping, of vantage points high above, or way below, with a disappearing horizon or a double focus or no focus at all; it is a masterclass in radical landscape painting.

These are pictures to send shivers down the spine, and even to fill one with dread, above all in the case of Edvard Munch. In Winter Night, the great shape-maker coins a bat-black tree with its branches out-flung like a cloaked figure before an immense frozen waste as night falls. The tree is as frightening as the dying light: will we get away before darkness overwhelms us?

The Scream counts, I suppose, as a symbolist landscape plus figure. It is also on view in Edinburgh in the form of a hand-coloured woodcut in Edvard Munch: Graphic Works From the Gundersen Collection at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Munch's prints are as articulate as his paintings – sometimes more so – and this show of 50 works goes as deep, in its incisive way, as the superb tribute to the exuberant old miserabilist currently on show at Tate Modern.

The big festival show at the SNGMA, Picasso and Modern British Art, originated at Tate Britain in February. It is more successful in Edinburgh than it was in London. This is not simply because the rooms in Edinburgh, with their natural light and human proportions, are a better place to look at paintings than the subterranean galleries at Millbank, but because this version is so well edited.

The idea is to look at three artists who paid sharp attention to Picasso without being overwhelmed – Wyndham Lewis, Francis Bacon, David Hockney – plus several more who fairly swooned. In London the comparison was often cruel, but some of the weaker painters (the Bloomsburys) have been cut back here and the main trio given much clearer representation. The show becomes a concise evolution of British modernism in which the influence of Picasso now looks more like learning and less like theft.

Picasso himself springs alive in zany photographs and drawings from the collection of the British surrealist Roland Penrose at the SNGMA, and, of course, in many stunning pictures, including the Tate's Three Dancers and his beautiful portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter in blue moonlight. It is also excellent to see those two Scottish mavericks, the Roberts Colquhoun and MacBryde in the cubist context. Look out for MacBryde's aggressive cucumber and apocalyptic, wild-eyed kipper.


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August 03 2012

Modern Toss

Stave off Olympics overload by going to see the Edvard Munch exhibition at London's Tate gallery





Bouncy castles, bathers and Beyoncé – the week in art

Jeremy Deller's bouncy Stonehenge hits London, plus Thomas Houseago's eerie sculptures take over Norwich and the best of the Edinburgh art festival – all in today's weekly art dispatch

Exhibition of the week: Thomas Houseago

The images and textures this Leeds-born sculptor creates are curious, memorable and eerie. Houseago has an eye for the grotesque and uncanny that makes me think of the German surrealist Max Ernst. His fame in Britain is lessened by his choice to live in Los Angeles, about as far away as you can get from our overcrowded art scene. Yet Houseago is shaping up as one of the true originals of modern British art.
Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, Norwich, until 27 January 2013

Other exhibitions this week

Andrew Miller
Miller has created the pavilion for this year's Edinburgh art festival, where information can be had and live events will take place.
St Andrew Square, Edinburgh, until 2 September

Philip Guston
This great American artist reached his most original and insightful heights, or depths, in the late works this exhibition celebrates.
Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, until 7 October

Tania Kovats
One hundred specimens of water from one hundred British rivers constitute this new work for the Edinburgh art festival.
Jupiter Artland, near Edinburgh, new permanent work

Edvard Munch
Need a break from Olympic fever? Munch's chill of the soul will curb your enthusiasm.
Tate Modern, London SE1, until 14 October

Masterpiece of the week


Cezanne, Bathers, about 1894-1905
The pulsating fantasies and longings of a very lonely man are transfigured into crystalline symmetries in this strange work of profound beauty.
National Gallery, London WC2N

Image of the week

What we learned this week

What a shame it is that Jay-Z and Beyoncé's architecture of choice is so naff

How Jeremy Deller's bouncy castle made Stonehenge a bit of a joke

A Roy Lichtenstein has been rediscovered in a warehouse after 42 years

Exactly how Dieter Roth chronicled his own death on camera

How artists from David Hockney to Michael Rosen have been inspired by the Olympics

And finally …

Post your personal images that sum up what London means to you on the Guardian Art and Design Flickr page

Share your art on the theme of sport now

Check out our Tumblr

Follow us on Twitter


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August 01 2012

Tehran exhibition reveals city's hidden Warhol and Hockney treasures

Paintings collected with help of Iran's last queen, Farah Pahlavi, and safeguarded in museum basement, on show for first time

It is the finest collection of modern art anywhere outside Europe and the US, boasting works by Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Edvard Munch, René Magritte and Mark Rothko.

But the pieces have been stacked in the basement of Tehran's Museum of Contemporary Art for more than 30 years, gathering dust in storage. Censors in Iran classed some as un-Islamic, pornographic or too gay, and they have never been shown in public. Others have been displayed only once or twice.

But now a number of the collection's paintings are on show for the first time in Tehran as part of the museum's Pop Art & Op Art exhibition, featuring works by Warhol, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Victor Vasarely, Richard Hamilton and Jasper Johns.

"Many of the works in the exhibition are shown for the first time," Hasan Noferesti, the museum's director for art programmes, told the Mehr news agency. "The exhibition aims to show the evolution of these artistic movements."

More than 100 pieces from the museum's remarkable collection are on display, according to Mehr, along with a series of works from Mexico that have been dedicated to the museum in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Mexican revolution and the 200th anniversary of the country's independence.

James Rosenquist, Jim Dine, Larry Rivers and RB Kitaj are among other artists whose works are in the exhibition, which runs until mid-August.

Iran's unique hidden treasure was bought before the Islamic revolution, under the supervision of Farah Pahlavi, the former queen of Iran, who fled the country with the late shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979.

The 38-year reign of the shah, self-proclaimed kings of kings, came to an end after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from exile to Tehran receiving a hero's welcome and founded the Islamic republic.

The collection includes Pollock's Mural on Indian Red Ground, considered to be one of his most important works and estimated to be worth more than $250m, as well as important pieces by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Whistler and Marcel Duchamp.

There are even pieces by artists whom the former empress met in person, including the Russian-French painter Marc Chagall and the English sculptor Henry Moore. The collection is thought to be worth more than $2.5bn.

Speaking to the Guardian, Pahlavi explained that the collection was bought during Iran's 1970s oil boom. "Our oil revenue had significantly increased and I spoke to [the shah] and Amir-Abbas Hoveyda [then prime minister], and told them that it was the best time to buy some of our ancient works both internally and from outside.

"I thought how good it would be to have a museum where we could put the works of our contemporary artists. Later I thought, why shouldn't we include foreign works. This is how it all started … at that time our curators and collectors were mostly interested in traditional art and not so much in the modern art."

Pahlavi's interest in western art is believed to derive from her education in France.

Kamran Diba, an Iranian architect and a cousin of the queen, was commissioned to design the museum in the heart of the capital and later selected the works with help from various people, including the presidents of Christie's and Sotheby's.

Pahlavi said: "I was very worried for the fate of those paintings during those events [at the time of the revolution], I was worried that the revolutionaries would destroy them. But fortunately the museum staff protected them in the basement.

"Some years ago the director of the museum showed some of the pieces and made a catalogue listing the works. I'm happy that people have realised what was hidden there for years."

Between 1997 and 2005, during the mandate of the former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, when restrictions on art were temporarily relaxed, Alireza Samiazar, then head of the museum, struggled to secure permission for the first display of some of the works.

In 2005, to the dismay of the regime's hardliners, a large number of the paintings were brought out for an exhibition. That show sparked controversy. Francis Bacon's Two Figures Lying on a Bed with Attendants, with seeming homosexual content, was deemed inappropriate and removed from the exhibition. However, many contentious works survived the censors. Andy Warhol's portraits of Mick Jagger and Marilyn Monroe are in Tehran and his paintings of Mao Zedong have been put on display in full for the first time in the pop art exhibition.

Despite the contempt of Tehran's rulers for western art, the collection has been safely guarded – bar a Warhol portrait of Pahlavi herself, which, she said, had been cut with a knife.

In 1994 the museum exchanged one of its many remarkable paintings – Woman III, by the Dutch-American expressionist Willem de Kooning – for a rare illuminated volume of Shahnameh, an ancient Persian poetry book, which belonged to the American art collector Arthur Houghton, because the painting had shown too much nudity in the eyes of the authorities.

The swap infuriated many, including Pahlavi. "If they were really interested in Shahnameh, couldn't they pay $6m and keep De Kooning's painting? The US businessman David Geffen, who bought the painting for some $20m, sold it for $110m few years ago. The De Kooning exchange is the sole exchange they've done so far and I hope it remains the last one."

Of the many ironies surrounding the artwork is the fact that Iran's powerful Guardian Council, a group of clerics, intervened a decade ago to forbid the selling or exchange of the works because, they said, trade in un-Islamic and pornographic works was prohibited.

Ali Amini Najafi, an Iranian art critic based in Germany, said: "The works in the collection are not randomly or arbitrarily chosen, it is clear that people involved in selecting them had a consistent plan to pick relevant and significant samples to depict the evolution of modern art and also to make sure that all movements from impressionists to pop art are represented.

"This collection was gathered at a defining moment of our history when Iranians were taking distance from their traditional past and were showing curiosity with modern art."


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Peter Duggan's Artoons: Edvard Munch

Cartoonist Peter Duggan is back with his alternative views of art history. Here, he takes a closer look at the stressful everyday life of Munch's Screamer





June 29 2012

This week's new exhibitions in pictures

From Turner Monet Twombly in Liverpool to Edvard Munch in London, find out what's happening in art around the country





June 25 2012

Master of misery: Edvard Munch at Tate Modern – in pictures

From paintings of vampires, deathbeds and murder sites to self-doubting self-portraits, Edvard Munch dedicated his life to depicting grisly scenes. Here is a selection of works from the man behind The Scream





Edvard Munch: a head for horror

From corpses on the highway to his sister on her deathbed, Edvard Munch was a master of the morbid. At a new Tate retrospective, Adrian Searle even finds his wallpaper terrifying

Hurrying away from the body in the road, the button-eyed murderer looks surprised by how easy it all was. He is heading our way, his eyes fixed on something only he can see. The painting is as quick and careless as the crime itself. Look too long at any bit of this painting, and it quickly falls apart. But this is also what is so good about Edvard Munch's 1919 Murder on the Road. There's not much expression there, the violence already forgotten. It is the record of a man in a rush to be elsewhere. You'd have trouble describing the murderer, except for those eyes – which are in any case just a couple of dots poked into an empty face the colour of the road. He's a sketchy kind of guy.

The whole thing has a penny-dreadful tabloid feel, and Munch might have based it on a grisly story in a Norwegian newspaper. After the mass slaughter of the first world war, and the pandemic of Spanish influenza (which Munch caught, and survived, the same year he painted this), what's one more stupid little killing on a quiet country road?

Munch liked a good murder. A man dies on a couch, blood drooling on to the furniture. His female killer stands across the room against awful green wallpaper, her face a mad scary-movie shriek. The pattern in the wallpaper swarms and roars. You want to get out of there, to be as far away as that hurrying killer on the road. And yet you stay. It is all too horribly compelling.

Munch painted other scenes from this same room: of jealousy and seduction, of silence and something awful about to happen. Each is like a scene from the same grim play, and he would then paint the same sad scene over and over. Six paintings, a bronze sculpture, various drawings, lithographs and photographs all depict a naked woman standing and weeping beside a bed, her head lowered. In each painting, her head is a distraught mess of pigment. I thought of Pierre Bonnard and of Edward Hopper: both succeeded here at what Munch tries and tries and fails to do. Munch's weeping woman is a kind of no one: it is not even clear that she is weeping. Bonnard and Hopper leave you with a sense of an individual in a space.

Even the paintings that are misconceived or a mess are fascinating records of a struggle. To be between greatness and inarticulacy, and to not care either way, takes a perverse sort of courage. At times Munch's paintings show great daring; at others, they become incoherent. Munch was extremely good at doing nasty. You could say he savoured it, and so do we: all those vampires and ruined relationships, horror, illness and death. His appetite for the sanguine is shared by most of us who watch thrillers and crime dramas and read murder stories. How Scandinavian of him, as Björk might sing.

Munch didn't just paint nasty things: it got into the way he painted too, even – perhaps especially – when he painted himself. Unsparing, Munch portrayed himself sick with the Spanish flu, drunk and with the bottles rearing up at him, ill and old and alone, sunken-faced, maundering around a darkened house. He turned himself into a character: melancholy Munch, a man beset by miseries, alcoholism, his own fame and fortune, his conspicuously wayward talent and his endless personal troubles – even though he was once a handsome man (not that the best of looks protect anyone from self-hatred).

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye tries to make us see Munch as modern in several ways: his repetition and serial repainting, his interest in photography and film, his use of theatrical lighting. He was aware of the opportunities and limits afforded by these different media. We always cast the art of the past in the ways that suit us: there is always new research, and new ways of looking. As it is, legions of artists have taken from him in one way or another. Andy Warhol reworked Munch in electric colour. Jasper Johns has quoted him. Martin Kippenberger, Peter Doig, Marlene Dumas, René Daniëls, Tracey Emin and a host of belated neo-expressionists have sucked his blood. Johns made several beautiful paintings in homage to Munch's late self-portrait Self Portrait Between the Clock and the Bed. Mostly, this consists of stylistic borrowings of his touch and the spatial organisation of his paintings, but it is also (in Doig's case, in particular) a matter of adopting an atmosphere.

These reanimations keep Munch alive for us. He also, endlessly, quoted himself. This was more than just feeding his market – though for a long time he did just that, repainting Puberty four times, The Kiss 11 times, the Sick Child (a painting purportedly of his sister dying of tuberculosis), six times. Which is the authentic Sick Child, or the real Scream? Was this catharsis or copying? Something of both. If there is also a sense of regurgitation, well, there was an element of disgust in much of what he did. What is not modern about Munch is his bohemian misanthropy. Maybe it is his conspicuous misery that feels old-fashioned – though he had much to be miserable about: the premature deaths of his mother and siblings, his failed love affairs and fights (he was shot in the hand), his breakdowns and drinking, his eye problems. Apart from anything else, this misery has no humour in it.

The exhibition makes much of Munch's photography, though he took far fewer photographs than his contemporaries Bonnard or Edouard Vuillard, and used photography much more indirectly than, say, Degas, in the service of his art. These photographs are dim, grey, often uncertain things. A great effort is expended in interpreting their cropped figures, double-exposures and vague terrains. There is a terrific emptiness about the yard beside the house where his mother died, and a lot of self-aggrandising in his self-portraits; he took pictures of himself, sometimes naked, adopting theatrical poses of one sort or another. Their relationship to his art, in any practical sense, is extremely limited, though they obviously held some kind of meaning for him.

The bits of film footage Munch shot are even less convincing. He looms and crouches before the camera, as though uncertain about why he is there or what he should do. The footage is a jumble of street scenes in Germany and Norway, footage of his aunt and sister and his friends, strangers on the street. "In the five minutes and 17 seconds that have survived, we can see his fascination with urban life," the catalogue tells us. Maybe he was just mucking about with a new toy.

What really counts here are the paintings, with their swooning fluidity and their weirdness, their interrupted rhythms, their intimacies and drama. Perhaps what Munch was best at was painting emptiness and waiting, things impending. He may be best known for the Scream, which isn't in the show, but it is not his best painting, and gets in the way of the totality of his achievement.

How modern was Munch? At dusk one evening last week, a man in the street threatened to stab me in the heart. "You're not a man," he said, searching for an insult and looking for a fight. "You're a woman." Hoping he might lose interest, my lover and I turned away and kissed, our faces mashing. After a bit the man wandered off, looking for more suitable victims. He was a sketchy kind of guy. It was a Munch-ish sort of moment.


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June 22 2012

Edvard Munch: the ghosts of vampires and victims

On the eve of a major exhibition at London's Tate Modern, AS Byatt reflects on how she is haunted by the artist's work

Art, wrote Edvard Munch, "is the pictorial form created by the human nerves – the heart – the brain – the eye." As a young man in Norway in the late 1880s he set out a manifesto for an art of passion.

"We want more than a mere photograph of nature. We do not want to paint pretty pictures to be hung on drawing room walls. We want to create, or at least to lay the foundations of, an art that gives something to humanity. An art that arrests and engages. An art created of one's innermost heart."

Like Van Gogh, he wanted to make passionate images of human beings and nature for a secular world, to replace the old religious images. Over his life time he worked and reworked a series of paintings he called The Frieze of Life. Among these were Puberty, Jealousy, Vampire, The Kiss, Madonna, Sphinx, Anxiety, Melancholy, The Dance of Life, Ashes, The Scream. They were painted initially in the 1890s. They are compelling and frequently appalling. The curators of the new exhibition at Tate Modern, Angela Lampe and Clément Chéroux, point out in their catalogue that three-quarters of Munch's output dates from after 1900, most particularly from between 1913 and 1930. Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye is an exhibition of Munch's modern consciousness, and the catalogue analyses his artistic intelligence, his construction of optical space, his relationship with the spectator, his work, in the early days of photography and film, on the reproducibility of images. The authors are not claiming that the modern Munch was less passionate than the symbolist. They are showing how he found new ways of exploring the human nerves, the heart, the brain, the eye. The catalogue is fascinating and full of new ways of looking and thinking.

Munch's is a world full of the ultimate human things – sickness, death, sex, fear, desire, hatred and destruction. His rooms are furnished with dark, solid beds seen from all angles – deathbeds, sickbeds surrounded by those about to become mourners or by mourners, sex beds in which encounters have happened or will happen, beds in which the onlooker can see parts of the corpse of a murdered person while the murderer stares transfixed, the bed in Puberty on which a thin, anxious girl sits with her hands crossed over her genitals. Beside her is a dark shadow, not unlike a magnified image of her own dark hair, which rises like smoke from a point beside her knees. She is unforgettable, as is The Sick Child, an image Munch reworked repeatedly, in both paintings and lithographs. She represents his sister, Sophie, who died when she was 15 and Munch was 13. Looking at these works we are struck by the incongruous liveliness of the child's bright red hair, exactly as we see the tense stillness of the face, the drawn lips. Munch himself described his own struggle to retrieve the image he remembered.

When I saw the sick child for the first time – her pale face with vigorous red hair against a white pillow – it made an impression on me, only to disappear as I worked. I painted a good picture on the canvas, but it was a different one. I repainted that picture many times over the years – scraped it off – let it dissolve into layers of paint … I had captured a lot of that first impression, the tremulous mouth, the translucent skin – the tired eyes – but the colours in the painting were not finished – it was pale grey. The painting as a whole was heavy, like lead.

In 1890 Munch said "I don't paint what I see – but what I saw", and this reference to the part played by memory in the construction of his images makes us see them as different from, for instance, Monet's beautiful and terrifying image of his wife Camille, painted as she died. The first Sick Child was painted in 1885-86, and another in 1896, and there are versions in, for instance, 1907, 1925 – six versions in all.

Lampe and Chéroux point out that Munch came under attack for making numerous copies of The Sick Child. He defended himself by saying that all the repetitions were an act of memory – a continuous struggle with the motif – a continuing work of art. He pointed out that what he was doing was analogous to Monet's series of haystacks or cathedrals – something seen and recorded at successive times, in successive moods. In a splendid chapter called "Reworkings", the authors show how Munch both needed to revisit images and ideas, and was unusually interested in, and sophisticated about, the 20th-century ability to reproduce and record images. I have often, as a writer, wondered what painters feel when they sell a painting. Books proliferate in many forms once they are written. They don't leave the author's possession. Munch records repainting certain images in order still to have one of his own, to think about and remember. Repainting a subject must be a way of both recapturing an idea, and of thinking about it in new ways. Munch painted, for instance, 12 different versions of Vampire – an image of a naked woman with long, wild red hair bent over the dark head of a man whose face is buried in her breasts. Her sharp nose is above his neck and her teeth are presumably buried in it. The background and the subject vary – it is dark and threatening, it is a woodland glade, the woman is more and less animal, the hair is wilder or softer. The effect on the onlooker is to make the image more fixed as it is repeated – there is an archetypal vampire, this is how she is; you can represent her in this way or that but she is constant.

One of the theoretical problems about repetition and reworking is that of authenticity – what is an original, what is a copy? This, the writers point out, later became involved in the idea of the market value of uniqueness. Munch was able to make a living partly by exhibiting versions of paintings already owned by others. Arnold Böcklin was commissioned to repaint his famous Isle of the Dead by Marie Berna, in memory of her dead husband. The case of Giorgio de Chirico is interesting – his early paintings excited, for instance, the surrealists, with their mysterious settings and symbols. But the surrealists were dismayed when after 1920 the painter began to make copies of his own earlier work, which André Breton and Max Ernst found repellent and lifeless. He also made copies and predated them, selling them fraudulently. Both Munch's copies and De Chirico's were in turn copied by Andy Warhol, that master of the repeated image – he did his own versions of Munch's self-portrait with the skeletal arm, of his ghoulish Madonna, and of The Scream itself. As Lampe and Chéroux say: "Warhol had understood that Munch's motifs were just as autonomous and free as a Campbell's soup can or a Marilyn image, and could easily be recombined. He recognised their iconic branding, with The Scream standing for fear, Madonna for ecstasy and Self-Portrait for death."

Munch used many techniques of what Walter Benjamin called "mechanical reproduction" in his essay on "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction". Benjamin argued that the proliferation of images of images – prints, photographs – deprived a work of art of its "aura", the sense of power and mystery it had as a unique object of contemplation in societies with religious structures. Benjamin did believe that there still existed "original" works of art, which had "authenticity". But as the Munch catalogue points out, the dividing line between original and copy was blurring appreciably. The availability of original prints by the artists meant that copies were themselves seen to be original works of art.

Munch made etchings and lithographs of the motifs in his well-known paintings. He also took photographs – both conventional and experimental. He recorded himself – a severe profile, a naked man striding on a beach, wielding a paintbrush and palette, a kind of hazy ectoplasm in a deliberately doubled exposure. He took portraits in which he deliberately moved during the shooting, which he called Metabolism – an image, the catalogue remarks, of "the transformation of molecules and energy". He took formal pictures of himself as an inmate of a clinic, taking tea. He took photographs of paintings – of himself, solid and dark, among a group of shadowy painted self-portraits, of the painting of The Sick Child, of himself in bed, one in the series of fateful beds. He painted a sensuous nude with long auburn hair, and photographed the model, standing in the same pose among canvases in the studio. He photographed the truncated skirts and boots of two headless women – the authors suggest that the long shadow that falls across their feet is yet another portion of Munch's self-recording, another hinted self-portrait.

He learned also from the visual forms of early moving pictures. The cinema and the camera revealed new ways of recording movement – how a galloping horse, or an advancing pedestrian or an animated crowd appear to the camera. These contribute to Munch's compelling representations of space – often receding from a figure or creature which is advancing towards the onlooker and is cut off by the frame of the canvas. The painter somehow stretches the space that funnels into the space of the canvas, making everything rush. There is an extraordinary Galloping Horse, hurtling through snow with huge forequarters and wild mane. The animal's diminished hindquarters are barely visible, and the driver, on a kind of sledge, is dwarfed in a perspective which is vertiginous and abnormal. The effect is heightened by the snowy background, which blurs the structure of the landscape – the charging horse appears to be in its own avalanche of white speed. (It has all the same an anxious and homely face.) Two onlookers stand each side of the slope, parallel to the sides of the frame, intensifying the abnormal space of the gallop and the rushing snow.

Something similar is going on in one of my favourite pictures in The Frieze of Life, Red Virginia Creeper. A terrible face is just above the bottom of the frame, under a black cap, with greenish flesh and huge, round staring eyes; a neat inverted V of red moustache over a small frightened mouth makes that mouth simultaneously appalled. Behind this head a brownish path recedes and narrows rapidly – rising reddish out of the shoulder of the terrible figure as the swollen shadow rises out of the hip of the clenched girl in Puberty. Behind that is a very solid block of a bourgeois house, and some clean white railings. There are what may be gravestones leaning above the ground level of the house – which has no visible door. The house is blood red. It is the red of virginia creeper – one of the reds of virginia creeper – but it is flat, not leafy, solid like meat. The red has overwhelmed parts of the upper windows. The white shapes of the two lower windows look like coffins or shrouds. Munch's variations on the colour red are among the most staggering things he does. Here is his description of the moment when he decided to paint The Scream: "One evening I was walking along a road – with the fjord and the town below on the other side. I was sick and tired – I stood for some time looking across the fjord. The sun was setting – the clouds were turning red – like blood. I felt as if a scream was going through nature – I thought I heard a scream. I painted the picture – painted the clouds like real blood. – The colours were screaming. This was the picture The Scream in The Frieze of Life."

These reds are related to the fiery red hair of the sick child and the vampire. They are also related to the face of a repeated image he made late in his life. The subject of Young Woman Weeping by the Bed walks, or stands, naked, with her face bent down, and the face is usually the same blood-red as the creeper – a red maybe of skin bloated by weeping, or a blush of shame or terror?

The shape of Munch's relationship with the onlooker was also influenced by his venture into stage design. In 1906 he worked in Berlin with the great theatre director, Max Reinhardt, who had opened a new, intimate Kammerspiele (chamber theatre), which was like a room in which the audience was close to the action. Munch designed sets for Ibsen's Ghosts and Hedda Gabler, and had his own studio space where he worked on the Frieze of Life, one version of which was exhibited in the foyers. His set for Ghosts is particularly impressive. He placed a huge black armchair with its back to the audience – representing the space of the unspoken family secrets that drove the action behind it. Reinhardt was enthusiastic about this design. "The armchair says it all! … And the walls of the rooms in Munch's painting! They are the colour of gum disease. We have to try to find wallpaper in exactly this tone. It will put the actors in the right mood! To come fully into its own, facial expression needs space that is modulated through form, light, and above all, colour."

It was round about that time that Munch remarked of one of his works: "I have painted a still life as good as any by Cézanne, except that in the background I have painted a murderess and her victim." The title is Still Life, the Murderess. I don't know what this would be in the original language. Nature Morte is an even grimmer joke.

Throughout Munch's career he studied himself, implacably, in a series of self-portraits in various media that recorded his ageing and sickness – both mental and physical. In 1930 he had a rupture in the retina of his right eye that led to a haemorrhage. This was his good eye, as the other had been injured in a fight. Munch painted what his eye recorded – the "inside of sight" as Max Ernst put it. He painted the "spots in his vision", circular, concentrically coloured optical illusions, blood red and bright blue, and an image of the artist in his bed "seeing" a floating blue skull with reddened eyehole shadows. He painted also a great illusory bird form – Kneeling Nude with Eagle, in which the creature appears to be attacking the kneeling figure. This unflinching study of the damage is a distant continuation of the fact that when he was first painting The Sick Child he saw his own eyelashes as dark streaks in the upper corner of the image and painted them in too.

The late portraits, of a thinning, questioning, diminishing figure, still curious about himself and his world, are moving and remarkable. In Self-Portrait between the Clock and the Bed he stands with hanging arms and an almost mild, almost expressionless face between the tall, dark pillar of time and a hospital-like bed, with a white bedspread striped in black and red. He is in shadow. Behind him the space is full of golden light and the wall is studded with paintings and drawings. On the right in a strip of dark is a narrow, moony abstract female nude, suspended in space. Death, painting? It is unforgettable, in its use of space, in its perfectly executed feeling.


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Jenny Saville, Yoko Ono and Ai Weiwei – the week in art

Saville is out to show she's the feminist Freud, Ono divulges her hopes, book tips and snapshots, and Ai Weiwei is barred from his own court hearing – all in your weekly art dispatch

Exhibition of the week: Jenny Saville

Is this painter of pungent flesh a feminist Lucian Freud for the 21st century... or an overblown media phenomenon? Saville has a striking style, but critics have never agreed on the quality of her work. Big red blotches of pigment do not guarantee brilliance. Here is a chance to make up your mind about an artist who straddles fine art and pop culture.
· Modern Art Oxford, from 23 June until 16 September

Other exhibitions this week

Edvard Munch
One of the true giants of modern art brings a Scandinavian chill to the British summer.
· Tate Modern, London, from 28 June until 14 October

Diane Arbus
The extremes of pathos and mockery in this photographers' art epitomise the power of photography itself.
· Timothy Taylor gallery, London, from 26 June until 17 August

John Currin
Freaky paintings to amuse and appal.
· Sadie Coles HQ, London, until 18 August

Karla Black
Last chance to catch a show by this recent Turner nominee on her home turf.
· Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, until 24 June

Masterpiece of the week

Rembrandt, Girl at a Window

Is she a servant, a courtesan? The gold chain around her neck suggests sensuality and is typical of the way Rembrandt glorified women. Whoever she is and whatever relationship – if any – she may have had with the painter, this young woman lives forever in his art.
· Dulwich Picture Gallery

Image of the week

What we learned this week

That Ai Weiwei grows ever more convinced of the need to stand up to Chinese authorities – after he is barred from his own hearing

What Yoko Ono's top book tips are, what her personal photo albums look like – and how she answered your questions

That the Stirling prize shortlist this year is chock full of austerity chic

Who Turner shortlister Luke Fowler has taken as his latest film subject

How Chris Ofili has found collaborating with the Royal Ballet – backdrops, bunions and all

And finally

Have you uploaded anything to the Guardian Art and design Flickr page yet?

Or shared any of your art with us?

Do you follow us on Twitter?

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June 08 2012

Matisse, Munch and mischievous tapestries – the week in art

The fruits of Matisse's manual labour are revealed, Munch takes Scotland by storm, and Grayson Perry tackles class issues in new tapestries – all in your favourite weekly art dispatch

Exhibition of the week: Mantegna to Matisse

Drawings are the purest and most intimate documents of how artists see, feel, and shape the world. Old paintings may well have undergone extensive restoration, so that it is hard to tell what is authentic and what is added. Even works that are undamaged may have been the work of assistants as well as the "master" of a workshop. Drawings, however, are the direct manual labour of an artist sitting there, pressing down a point against a sheet of paper. This gallery has a tremendous collection of such scintillating survivals and if you have never had the chance to visit, go, and see its tremendous permanent collection too.
Courtauld Gallery, London, from 14 June until 9 September

Other exhibitions this week

Invisible
Art that you can't see! Those crazy curators!
Hayward Gallery, London, from 12 June until 6 August

Jo Spence
A radical artist remembered.
Studio Voltaire, London, until 11 August

Edvard Munch
The dark heart of Scandinavia laid bare.
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, until 23 September

Summer Exhibition
The dark heart of the Home Counties laid bare.
Royal Academy, London, until 12 August

Masterpiece of the week

Titian's Tarquin and Lucrezia

One of Titian's most powerful and troubling works, this late painting reveals the violence and danger behind the windows of Venetian palaces. Titian was the supreme painter of sensual beauty in 16th-century Venice but here he depicts a rape. This is a true masterpiece that looks as if it was painted with smoke and blood.
• Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Image of the week

The National Portrait Gallery in London has bought a portrait of celebrated diplomat, soldier and cross-dresser Chevalier d'Eon.

What we learned this week

Why the Royal Academy has launched a new pamper plan

What Grayson Perry's new 'middle class' tapestries look like

Why Jenny Holzer has been painting the US battleplans for the invasion of Iraq

Why a catcopter has taken the art world by storm

What your art on the theme of Britain looks like – roadworks, union jacks and all

And finally

Have you seen the Guardian Art and Design Flickr page? Share all your latest cultural snaps there

Or share all of your artworks with us

Or follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

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Sign up for the Art Weekly newsletter


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May 09 2012

From the archive, 9 May 1994: Edvard Munch's stolen Scream recovered in undercover sting

Scotland Yard detectives played a key role in the undercover sting operation which recovered Edvard Munch's stolen masterpiece from a south Norway hotel
From the archive blog: Edvard Munch's worthless art

Scotland Yard detectives played a key role in the undercover sting operation which recovered the stolen Norwegian painting, The Scream, it was revealed yesterday.

Norwegian police found Edvard Munch's masterpiece virtually undamaged at a hotel in south Norway on Saturday. Three Norwegians were later arrested.

According to the daily newspaper Dagenbladet, two Metropolitan Police officers fooled the thieves by pretending they would buy the painting for £250,000.

Norwegian police had contacted London shortly after the theft and the Norwegians worked closely with Chief Inspector John Butler, head of Scotland Yard's Arts and Antiques squad.

"While John Butler worked with [Norwegian police inspector] Leif Lier...two of Butler's agents had already been in touch with people who claimed they could get hold of The Scream," the paper said.

Scotland Yard issued a brief statement confirming it had co-operated but left the Norwegians to release any further details. Knut Berg, director of the National Gallery in Oslo, said the painting had a microscopic pinprick but he described the work as undamaged.

"The thieves must have handled it with extreme caution," he said. "It was wonderful to see the painting again and we hope to have it back on the wall on Wednesday," Mr Berg said.

Two men, filmed by video, carried out the theft on February 12, on the day of the opening of the Winter Olympics at Lillehammer. They smashed a window, grabbed the painting and disappeared in less than a minute.

"I am extremely happy and relieved that one of our greatest and most well-known art treasures has been recovered. This has been an eye-opener," said minister of culture, Aase Kleveland.

The painting, which art experts say would be impossible for thieves to sell on the open market, was found in Aasgaarstrand, a beach resort where Munch had a cottage and where he painted some of his most famous works.

British police are in the forefront of tracking down Europe's stolen art, partly because an estimated 60% of it ends up in London.

[A pastel version of The Scream sold for a record $119.9m (£74m) at an auction in New York on 3 May.]


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May 08 2012

Scream if you want to bid higher: the high cost of art

At £74m, The Scream went to a buyer with very deep pockets. Such prices destroy rather than celebrate creativity

What is the man on the bridge screaming in Edvard Munch's most famous work? I will tell you. He is screaming: "I am too expensive! I belong in a public collection!"

As an artist, the price of art makes me want to scream. Munch's pastel drawing of The Scream, one of four versions, sold for $120m (£74m) last week in just 12 minutes. When the bidding reached $100m, the audience applauded. As he recorded the final offer, the auctioneer joked: "I love you." What is that love born of? It would be mean to say the love the auctioneer proclaimed was simply born of greed. After all, perhaps you really have to love art, love The Scream, and love its buyers, to value it at £74m. But trophy prices that only the super-rich can afford are damaging. Few public collections could even begin to raise £74m for a single acquisition.

This version of The Scream is the only one to include a poem by Munch on the frame, which describes the inspiration behind the series. It reads: "I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature."

A piece of this magnitude belongs where everyone can see it. The enjoyment, understanding and popularity of such iconic works is humanity's inheritance. Human beings can fall in love across generations; people from all over the world can come to understand each other through their cultures; and we can all celebrate together by listening to great music – but not if the great artefacts of our age are squirrelled away in a rich person's downstairs loo.

Even if a public collection could afford to plough huge amounts of its energy, effort and cash into making such a purchase, it would not be right: there is so much else you could do with that kind of money. Think how many great works by younger artists you could buy with just £500,000. Think what a difference a sum like that could make to gallery education departments (schemes aiming to widen access to the visual arts). From time to time, galleries do attempt to rescue an important work "for the nation"; but, despite some high-profile successes, such as the purchase last year of Bruegel the Younger's Procession to Calvary, the capacity to do this is more limited than is widely perceived. Crazy auction prices do nothing to help us hang on to our art.

There is another pernicious result of the art market's buoyancy. In this recession, art is still seen as a good investment: everything else may be in flux, but Picasso will always be Picasso. This inflates the value of public collections, meaning galleries come to be seen as places housing treasures with a high monetary value – not as buildings filled with ideas, aspirations and possibilities. National collections, with their armies of trustees, are protected from local councillors eager to sell off a Lowry to manage a deficit – but smaller ones aren't. Last year, a painting by John Everett Millais was sold by Bolton council for £74,400 to fund a new museum warehouse. Such de-acquisition should go from being a taboo to being illegal.

What's the solution? That's trickier. We can appeal to rich people's sense of public spirit, in the hope that they will donate, or at least long-lend, work to museums. But the problem is that public officials in museums are not there to chase and flatter wealthy collectors but to display the important art of the past, to reveal unseen histories, to reflect what is going on today while pointing to tomorrow.

Contemporary artists are split into two camps: those who are quite happy to create objects that work well as investment vehicles; and those (mainly younger) artists who couldn't care less. Neither group has a claim on making better art. You can make valuable, interesting, important art out of gold as well as sausages. I am keen on contemporary artists making a living, but we all need to beware the dangers of the inflated art market.

If contemporary art remains too expensive, it will not be bought by public museums. The collections of the future won't have good work that reflects, challenges or explains what is going on now. In the end, the best currency an artist can receive is footfall and discussion. There is no point in showing your work only to the "right people". Art shouldn't just be available to all, it should also be available in multiple ways – and we should encourage all people to make it.

Hey artists! Don't turn ideas into cash. Make art cheap. Give your art to public collections and don't demand a tax break. Make art that has no investment potential. Don't get caught up with making money. Get caught up with making things better.


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May 03 2012

The Scream sells for record $120m at auction

Edvard Munch's painting bought by unnamed telephone bidder during auction at Sotheby's in New York

To mere mortals it hardly seemed like a bargain but someone, somewhere, has decided that owning a rare version of Edvard Munch's 1895 painting, The Scream, was worth shelling out an eye-watering $119.9m (£74m).

The price, one of the highest ever paid for a work of art, was reached after just 12 minutes of bidding and paid by a so-far anonymous telephone bidder.

As the auctioneer's gavel came down at Sotheby's in New York, the crowd in the room cheered the remarkable event. Bidding had started at a relatively modest $50m with at least five interested parties but the field narrowed as the price sky-rocketed.

One of only four versions of the work in existence and widely regarded as the best, the painting sold on Thursday night is one of a handful of artistic images that have crossed over from the world of high art to popular culture.

It has inspired film references, from the knife-wielding villain of the Scream slasher movies to a famous scene in Home Alone, where child star Macauley Culkin imitated the painting's famous pose.

It is also celebrated by the therapy industry with its horrific depiction of stress and terror.

"This is not a a beautiful landscape in Surrey or a harbour on the French Riviera. It is a representation of extreme anxiety. Imagine if a shrink in London had this on their wall. It's a fantastic painting for their profession. Of course, they could not afford it," said Mark Winter, director of Munch Experts, a company specialising in appraising and valuing works by the Norwegian expressionist.

This version is the only one whose frame was hand-painted by the artist to include his poem explaining the work's inspiration. Munch described himself "shivering with anxiety" and feeling "the great scream in nature".

It was sold by Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen, whose father was a friend and patron of the artist. Proceeds of the sale will fund a new museum, art centre and hotel in Hvitsten, Norway, where Olsen's father and Munch were neighbours.

"It is a unique chance for someone to acquire this version. It is the crown jewel of the four but you really need a national budget to buy it. And not the budget of a small country either," said Winter.

The Scream will join a select group of works that have sold for more than $100m, including Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust, which sold in 2010 for $106.5m.

Yet even that hefty price tag feels like a snip compared with the staggering $250m paid by oil-rich Qatar to snag Paul Cezanne's The Card Players for a new art museum. Details of the deal struck in 2011 only emerged earlier this year.

Simon Shaw, head of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art in New York, said the work was one of the most important to ever emerge from private hands on to the open market.

"Instantly recognisable, this is one of the very few images which transcends art history and reaches a global icon. The Scream arguably embodies even greater power today than when it was conceived," he said.


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April 12 2012

Edvard Munch's The Scream comes to London

One of four originals by Norwegian artist goes on show in capital for first time before estimated £50m sale in New York

A version of one of the most instantly recognisable works of art in the world goes on public display in London on Friday for the first time ahead of its sale next month with an estimate of £50m ($80m) – a figure that could easily prove to be conservative.

Four versions of Edvard Munch's The Scream exist and the only one remaining in private hands will be sold at Sotheby's in New York on 2 May.

Amid tight security, it was unveiled to journalists in London on Thursday. Members of the public can see it and other sale highlights on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Philip Hook, senior specialist at the auction house, said: "In terms of the fame and the familiarity of the image, I think this is the most important picture that Sotheby's have ever sold. Short of selling the Mona Lisa, I do not think there is another image that transcends its original function as a work of art in a way that The Scream does.

"It is the ultimate image of angst and anxiety. It's an image of modern man's alienation – the face that launched a thousand therapists. In a sense it is the whole beginning of modern man's fascination with his own emotions."

An estimate of $80m has been put on the work, the highest ever by Sotheby's. But it would come as little surprise if it ends up rivalling or beating the auction-house record held by Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, which sold for $106m at Christie's in New York in May 2010.

"The estimate is very difficult," said Hook. "We shall see. It is a bit of a guess, but there is going to be tremendous interest in it."

The prime example of The Scream is in the National Gallery of Norway, while another two are in the Munch Museum in Oslo. The pastel work being sold next month, created in 1895, most closely follows the prime and is the most colourful and vibrant of the four. It has never been on public display in the UK.

It is being sold by Petter Olsen of the Olsen shipping family, whose father Thomas was a friend, patron and neighbour of Munch's at Hvitsten in Norway.

Olsen said the proceeds would go toward the establishment of a new museum, arts centre and hotel dedicated to the artist timed to open in 2013, the 150th anniversary of Munch's birth.

"We are restoring his house and guests can stay in his home," Olsen said. He added: "I am concerned as an environmentalist about man's relationship with nature, and I feel The Scream makes an important statement about this."

Other works in the sale include a knockout Francis Bacon, Figure Writing Reflected in Mirror, which has been in the same hands since it was bought in 1977 after a small but legendary show at the Galerie Claude Bernard in Paris; a 1941 Picasso portrait of his lover and muse Dora Maar, Femme Assise dans un Fauteuil; an Andy Warhol Double Elvis; and Roy Lichtenstein's Sleeping Girl.


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April 09 2012

The top visual arts picks for spring

The Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, Yoko Ono and a welcome re-evaluation of Edvard Munch

Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art

Interactive art by Jeremy Deller, Wolfgang Tillmans photographs, Richard Wright drawings, LA-based installationist Kelly Nipper at Tramway, a new film co-commissioned with Scottish Ballet by Rosalind Nashashibi and much more in Scotland's funkiest city. What's not to like? Various venues, 20 April to 7 May. glasgowinternational.org

Bauhaus: Art as Life

The Bauhaus was key to architecture, design, furniture, textiles, painting, sculpture, photography and so on – not just what art you hung on your walls, but the walls themselves, and a whole sense of what it is to be modern. A huge number of artworks and artefacts by its international roster of participants will inhabit a specially designed series of dramatic and intimate spaces. Barbican, London EC2, 3 May to 12 August. barbican.org.uk

Documenta 13

Documenta is the five-yearly keynote show of contemporary art worldwide, held in the German town of Kassel. Polemical, always controversial and frequently baffling, "this exhibition speaks about the uniqueness of our relationship with objects and our fascination with them," says its website – which could mean anything. Documenta depends on its invited curators, led this time by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev. Kassel, Germany, 9 June to 16 September. d13.documenta.de

Yoko Ono

How substantial an artist Yoko Ono is remains a question, though her impact on contemporary art has been described as enormous. She remains an enigmatic, annoying, captivating and charismatic figure, as this exhibition will doubtless confirm. Serpentine Gallery, London W2, 020-7402 6075, 19 June to 9 September. serpentinegallery.org

Turner Monet Twombly

JMW Turner and American abstractionist Cy Twombly seem to be shoehorned into all sorts of iffy confrontations these days. Here their late work appears with Monet's. Late Twombly still seems over-rated to me, but the showing of late Monet water lily paintings will be worth the visit alone. Tate Liverpool, 22 June to 28 October. tate.org.uk

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye (Critic's choice)

Sixty paintings, many from the Munch Museum in Oslo, and a rare showing of the artist's photography and film works, in a welcome exhibition intended to recast Munch not as symbolist depressive or Norway's Mr Scream, but as a quintessentially 20th-century artist attuned to his times. We are apt to forget that Munch lived until 1944. Tate Modern, London SE1, 28 June to 14 October. tate.org.uk


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February 21 2012

Edvard Munch's The Scream to be sold at auction

One of four versions of famous painting could achieve $80m, making it one of most expensive art works sold at auction

A version of one of the most recognisable paintings in the world – Edvard Munch's The Scream – is to be sold by Sotheby's in New York.

The auction house said the painting could achieve in excess of $80m (£50m), which would make it one of the most expensive artworks ever sold at auction.

The painting is one of four versions created by the Norwegian artist and the only one in private hands. Simon Shaw, head of the impressionist and modern art department at Sotheby's in New York, said: "Munch's The Scream is the defining image of modernity, and it is an immense privilege for Sotheby's to be entrusted with one of the most important works of art in private hands.

"Instantly recognisable, this is one of very few images which transcends art history and reaches a global consciousness. The Scream arguably embodies even greater power today than when it was conceived.

"At a time of great critical interest in the artist, and with the 150th anniversary of his birth in 2013, this spring is a particularly compelling time for The Scream to appear on the market. For collectors and institutions, the opportunity to acquire such a singularly influential masterpiece is unprecedented in recent times."

Shaw said it was difficult to predict the value of The Scream but recent sales suggested that the price could exceed $80m. That would place it alongside auction record holders, such as Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, which holds the current record after it sold for $106m (£70m) at Christie's in New York in May 2010. That broke the previous record of $104.3m paid three months earlier for Giacometti's Walking Man I at Sotheby's in London.

The Scream is owned by the Norwegian businessman Petter Olsen – part of the Olsen shipping family – whose father, Thomas, was a friend and patron of Munch.

Olsen said: "I have lived with this work all my life, and its power and energy have only increased with time.

"Now, however, I feel the moment has come to offer the rest of the world a chance to own and appreciate this remarkable work, which is the only version of The Scream not in the collection of a Norwegian museum."

He added: "I am concerned as an environmentalist about man's relationship with nature, and I feel The Scream makes an important statement about this."

The work was one of many by Munch that Olsen's father had acquired in an effort to further the artist's reputation by lending the collection to exhibitions overseas, he said.

"In that tradition, proceeds from this sale will go toward the establishment of a new museum, art centre and hotel on my farm Ramme Gaard at Hvitsten, Norway. It will open next year in connection with the Munch 150th anniversary, and will be dedicated to the artist's work and time there."

Munch's studio and house would be restored, allowing guests to stay in the latter, he said.

This version of The Scream is the most vibrant of the four, with the prime example being in the collection of the National Gallery of Norway. It was stolen in 1994, at the start of the winter Olympics in Lillehammer, but returned later that year.

Ten years later the other two versions were stolen, this time by a masked gunman. They were also recovered and went back on display in 2008.

The sale will allow this 1895 version to go on public display in London and New York for the first time.


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