A pinnacle exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art pitches the artist of angst against the artist of pop – Edvard Munch meets Andy Warhol.
By Poul Erik Tøjner, Director of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
Edvard Munch and Andy Warhol? Can anyone imagine a greater contrast – two artists who were more polar opposites?
Norwegian painter Munch ( HYPERLINK “http://da.wikipedia.org/wiki/1863” o “1863” 1863- HYPERLINK “http://da.wikipedia.org/wiki/1944” o “1944” 1944) is famed as the great painter of the inner soul; a childhood ravaged with sickness, death, misogyny and alcoholism, and later renowned for a handful of iconic paintings, such as *The Scream*, *Melancholy*, *Madonna*. *The Scream* became the ‘Mona Lisa of the North’, and Munch became the van Gogh of the North – the hypersensitive and harrowingly honest artist to whom life and art are inseparable. A profoundly personal artist, Munch paints from the depth of experience and seeks to fathom the roots of his existence.
That isn’t exactly what most people would associate with American artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987) – nor, indeed, would Warhol. His credo was along the lines of: “If you want to know something about Andy Warhol, you need to look at the surface. That’s where he is.” He was indeed the stage manager supreme of superficiality, what with his appropriation of press images of highway accidents, of pop culture celebrities, of Campbell soup cans, the electric chair rendered in vivid hues, Chairman Mao, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Coca-Cola, and Marlon Brando. Nothing new, but reproductions of reproductions. “I want to be a machine,” he said, and so he did. Warhol was prolific and a trademark in his own right, and his very studio was known as The Factory.
So – isn’t this oil and water? Not at all. The new exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art does, however, mark the first major juxtaposition between these two artists in a museum context.
Warhol After Munch
Throughout his career, Warhol not only turned newspaper cuttings and photographs into his own images, he also had a sideline going with art world classics. Botticelli and – naturally – Leonardo’s *Mona Lisa* were obvious targets for repro-man Warhol, and so was Munch. Around 1983, Warhol turned to Edvard Munch’s four most iconic graphic works – *The Scream* from 1895, *Madonna* and *Self-portrait* from the same year and the wonderful female portrait *The Brooch* from 1903. *The Scream* is the embodiment of angst – the undercurrent of human existence, *Self-portrait* a tombstone of an artist who is nonetheless still alive, *Madonna* rendered as an orgiastic woman with a foetus in the corner and semen wriggling round the frame, and finally *The Brooch* as the image of happiness, a person in self-embrace insulated from the trepidations of the artist.
Warhol launched into a series of experiments of repetition and variation based on Munch’s graphic works. He rendered them larger in scale, coloured them with different hues, and paired Madonna with Munch – creating a kind of double image, a wedding portrait of conception and death in one and the same movement. The exhibition at Louisiana features both originals – Munch’s works – and Warhol’s versions.
A thematic fellowship
Munch’s motifs must obviously have appealed to Warhol – an artist who was himself obsessed with death, sexuality and self-image, the image of the artist. So naturally there is a thematic fellowship between the two artists. This is why the myth of Warhol must be revised; despite his association with the superficiality of pop and media society there is nonetheless in Warhol’s work a sense of anguish and fascination. There is also an inclination towards employing repetition as a strategy with which to transform images of everyday life.
The same applies to the myth of Munch. It begs similar re-evaluation, and the juxtaposition between Warhol and Munch might facilitate this. For Munch also had his methods and strategies and ideas, both those of his own and of others. And he worked no less systematically, repetitively and experimentally with his graphic art than Warhol.
Superficiality, profoundly speaking
When we view Munch through Warhol we experience new sides to his art. For instance – if not already apparent – how powerfully communicative an artist Munch really is. His approach is in reality just as simple as that of Warhol.
Superficially speaking, Warhol is less superficial than his reputation allows, and Munch is more superficial than his own reputation – although I hasten to add that by ‘superficial’ I mean nothing negative, rather I seek to pinpoint the artistic vision they share: namely that what moves art lies with and within the visual images themselves.
A picture needs impact and power – to demonstrate resistance, strength and appeal. Warhol aimed at the highest of standards, namely commercial images where impact is absolutely crucial. Munch, on the other hand, hung his paintings out in the apple trees by his home in Norway to allow seagulls and pigeons to target them with their droppings – testing his pieces to see if they could stand up to the challenge of nature – art’s toughest competitor at the time!