Eight of Edvard Munch’s most famous paintings are on display in virtual exhibition
Nature has become a source of comfort and therapy for our indefinite life during the quarantine. We watch the monsoon season swiftly glide through summer skies: a soothing orchestra of city trees swinging in the distance catching the golden sunset light, framed perfectly by our home and car windows.
Caught in the uncharted waters of lockdown life, art exhibitions are beginning to transform into digital events. Global art events can now be experienced through a localized and accessible internet platform.
The New Munch Museum, located in Oslo, Norway, has opened its doors through digital projects and exhibitions. It invited world audiences into its newly-constructed space for a live tour of their latest exhibition. The digital programming adopted by the museum includes a live, 24/7 streaming of the famous painting popularly known as The Scream by Edvard Munch. The painting, deteriorating due to overexposure to people, can now be experienced with social distancing guidelines. The painting gleams under a light-sensitive lamp to ensure that it is not further damaged. The museum is an enormous 13-story building that will showcase 6,800 works from its collection along with an additional 1,100 paintings of Munch.
The exhibition, Yonder – Edvard Munch and Nature, can be experienced through a virtual walk hosted by the curator, Trine Otte Bak Nielsen. Audiences have the chance to be guided by the curator while experiencing installation views of the paintings in high definition. The video uses soft pans and zooming into the details to give us a series of close-ups of each painting. Nielsen takes her time to describe the time, season, landscape and contextualises the artist in each work, helping us understand Munch’s painting practice. She describes the colour, form and rationale of each piece making it feel immediate and intimate.
The tour begins with the painting, Woman Standing in the Doorway, from 1906 that as the title suggests has a figure centred between a brightly-lit entrance, shadowed by the interior of the home behind her. The subtle suggestion of two opposites, one being exterior and the other interior, acts as a metaphor for human emotions.
These are details that the viewer reads in the painting of Munch that at times have layers of dread and melancholy. The tour is immersive as the walls of the museum have been deliberately coloured in tones familiar to Munch’s signature palette.
The transportive quality of the strong spotlights illuminating works in focus creates a sense of depth and time while watching the video. Munch paints forests, the seaside and mountains, seen during winter and summer. The painterly strokes and colour mixing moves the emotions of the painting from joyful to horror within the same frame. The painting, Two Children on Their Way to the Fairytale Forest, feels hypnotic at first as there are tall menacing forms dominating the upper half of the canvas while the children skipping along a narrow path at the bottom half create a sinister tension. The suspense in the painting has a heavy presence coloured in with warm greens, yellow and wobbly line work that outlines separately the colour fields. The spectrum of emotions can be felt even through a virtual viewing. Viewing the interlinking relationships between the paintings has a transportive and synesthetic experience. The repetition of colours and forms used by Munch create a visual vocabulary that is unique to his signature style of painting. They are inspired by seasonal landscapes yet their emotive quality is decidedly human. The fine balance between representational forms and the environment and the title of the exhibition help us navigate these scenes.
Eight paintings are discussed in detail and shown one by one during the tour.
One can travel through the artist’s life through paintings such as The Scream, painted in 1893, to The Sun from 1912. The exhibition includes a never before seen painting, People Sunbathing in a Bay, from 1944. Self-portraiture was an integral part of Munch’s artistic repertoire with a series of photographs being showcased through a unique digital project simultaneously on view at the museum website. The figurative forms include men and women as characters along with trees, rocks and bodies of water depicting a complex emotional vernacular. The curation is intended to bring awareness to these seamless transitions between the human subject and nature.
Munch uses light and colour to create spatial uniqueness using brushstrokes generously spread on the canvas as a field of colour or as agile lines to shape his forms. We know the paintings showing the bay are from his summer residence where he spent time observing these subjects. The figures intentionally pick up shades from their surroundings imagining the body as a reflective surface blending into the picture plane. The paintings feel autobiographical, documenting the visual and emotional landscapes of Munch’s life.
The museum has a special MUNCH Studio that created this live tour that has an associative sound design that transforms the viewing from passive to an immersive experience.
Ambient sounds change when the view moves from dark forests to paintings with bright colours and sunlight. The museum plans to host a series of broadcasts that will explore other artists, host conversations, share music and design workshops for those who cannot visit the museum due to social distancing.
The writer is an artist and an art therapist