Remembering how Munch and Warhol matched wits at Scandinavia House
At first glance the pairing of Andy Warhol and Edvard Munch seems an unlikely coupling. However, as expertly explained by the curators at Scandinavia House, these two artists shared a startling number of common interests. The exhibition, “Munch and Warhol, and Multiple Image” is an important one in the scholarship of both artists. A lavish catalogue and a full schedule of public programming throughout accompany the show.
The exhibition is centered around a commissioned but never released suite of 32 large Warhol silk screened prints entitled “After Munch.” Completing the work between 1982-84 Warhol, eventually bought back the rights to the work and it disappeared into the vast Warhol universe. The curators have mounted an elegant installation that begins with the original Munch prints on which Warhol based his suite, setting the stage for this fascinating journey into the nature of portraiture, reproduction, and the art marketplace.
By all accounts Edvard Munch was an extremely savvy businessman. He developed a market for his prints, knowing that it is easier to sell an editioned print than a one-of-a-kind painting. He was also known to alter the prints, releasing different versions to satisfy the tastes of collectors. For example his controversial print Madonna is shown here in several states, some including a small fetus in the lower left corner, some without, some versions have a bit more of the “sperm” decorative motif than others. This allowed Munch to reach a wider group of collectors than he might have with a single version of the image.
Mr. Warhol was also a savvy businessman particularly in his use of graphic media. Warhol created a massive business in the print market, portraying his collectors and media stars in flattering modes, often customizing the color to meet his client’s wishes.
Both artists were fascinated with mortality and the loss of beauty, and one can clearly see Warhol’s kinship with Munch in his appropriation and reinterpretation of the four iconic Munch images in this show. Madonna, The Scream, Self-Portrait, The Brooch, and Eva Mudocci change radically in scale and color when placed in Warhol’s hands. But their underlying sense of desperation and loss are unchanged–if anything they’re heightened by Warhol’s application of hysterical color onto Munch’s imagery.
The most successful and moving of this series is Warhol’s cobbling together of Self-Portrait and Madonna. There are six giant versions of this couple in the middle room, and they are simply stunning. For all of the hype about Warhol’s coolness towards his work and subject matter, we see here an example of real passion. Madonna and Self-Portrait are joined together into a single image that portrays true horror and beauty. The range of color changes in each one highlights differing parts of this shock show- a hit of neon blue in one, sickly green in another.
This show is one of the most thoughtful and provocative–in the best sense of the word—of the summer.
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