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Munch and Warhol: Scandinavia House up-ends conventional wisdom on two art icons
Edvard Munch (1863-1944), Madonna, 1895/1896. Lithograph printed in black, with hand coloring, on light gray-green cardboard, 25 " x 18 "” (64.8 x 47.2 cm). Courtesy: Kunsthandel Kaare Berntsen, Oslo© 2013 The Munch Museum / The Munch-Ellingsen Group / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.

NEW YORK, NY.- The American-Scandinavian Foundation (ASF) at Scandinavia House: The Nordic Center in America offers intriguing new insights into the oeuvres of two artists who would seem to have little in common aside from having been extensively researched around the world and posthumously enshrined in art and culture, high and low.

On view through Saturday, July 27, 2013, MUNCH | WARHOL and the Multiple Image pairs fin-de-siècle lithographs by Edvard Munch with large-scale screen prints by Andy Warhol. The thrilling, Day-Glo hued works made by Warhol, after Munch, in the mid-1980s will surprise many visitors: while known to experts, the series was never published as an edition, nor displayed comprehensively in the U.S.

MUNCH | WARHOL has been co-organized by one of the world’s authorities on Munch, Patricia G. Berman, professor of art history at Wellesley College and the University of Oslo, in collaboration with Pari Stave, consulting curator to Scandinavia House, as part of Munch 150, an international celebration in 2013 marking the 150th anniversary of Munch’s birth. MUNCH | WARHOL is the only Munch 150 project in the United States.

“This exhibition is perfectly timed to honor Norway’s Edvard Munch, an artist whose paintings were first displayed in this country in Scandinavian Art Exhibition of 1912, a landmark exhibition organized by The American-Scandinavian Foundation,” notes Edward P. Gallagher, President of the ASF. “It is gratifying to see the Foundation continue to contribute to the appreciation of Munch more than a century later. ”

MUNCH | WARHOL finds a surprisingly close alignment between two artists who might otherwise seem to occupy utterly different planets by focusing on their variations on four famous Munch motifs—The Scream, Madonna, Self-Portrait with Skeleton Arm, and The Brooch. Eva Mudocci. “Even though Warhol offered himself up as all surface, and Munch, all impenetrable depth, this exhibition finds many similarities in the ways in which the two artists built their careers by carefully controlling their public personas and artistic production,” remarks Dr. Berman.

“Munch’s habit of repeating motifs has been understood to be prompted by compulsion and anxiety,” continues Dr. Berman. “But it also helped him get through dry periods, when he needed money, and was a strategy he used to reassure his audience as he experimented with new styles. Far from being an isolate, Munch was very much in control of his career, demanding and winning the right to sequence his works in exhibition and keeping hold of the reins on the selling of his art.”

“The 31 prints on view here invite a close reading of the craft of printmaking itself, as well as meditation on what is an original and what is a copy,” says Dr. Berman. “The visitor will find rare examples by Munch showcasing his delicate hand-tinting and use of diaphanous Japan paper as well as large-scale prints by Warhol illustrating his use of a ‘rainbow roll,’ the effect that emerges when a squeegee is pulled across a silkscreen, creating multi-colored lines that look like varicolored yarn.”

One of the exhibition’s highlights, Munch’s trial proof for Self-Portrait with Skeleton Arm (1895), which has never before been seen in the U.S., exemplifies how the nature of printmaking informs the meaning of these works. For the self-portrait, Munch drew directly on a lithographic stone, and once the image was printed on paper, hand painted its background. The result is a more conventional self-portrait than evolved in subsequent iterations: the later, and more familiar, version in the exhibition depicts Munch as a face floating in the center of a pool of black darkness.

In Warhol’s hands, the variations continued, including eight diptychs on view in the exhibition pairing Munch’s Madonna and Self-Portrait with Skeleton Arm. Here, Munch’s iconic temptress framed with a pattern of undulating sperm and a fetus-like shape, and the restrained self-portrait, are now brought together as an improbably couple. Viewers will see how, after Warhol’s master printer Rupert Jason Smith printed the silkscreen, Warhol interpreted Munch’s delicately drawn lines as strong decorative forms in Self-Portrait with Skeleton’s Arm, perhaps in part to echo the swirls and vertical lines of the Madonna.

MUNCH | WARHOL devotes a section to that most famous of cultural icons, The Scream (1895), showing how Warhol in one case blew up the image to nearly five feet and in seven versions pushed it to the brink of feeling and visual dissolution. Despite his stance of superficiality, Warhol seems to have devoted an unusual amount of effort to creating variations on The Scream that intensified the already combustible emotion of the original. He experimented with juxtaposing hot colors with cool; printing intentionally out of register, endowing the scream with a near-physical vibration; and tracing Munch’s lines, while stripping the image of tones, so that the iconic figure became increasingly disembodied.

“When Warhol was commissioned to appropriate Munch’s motifs, one master of repetition and multiplication took on another. His large-scale prints both parody and honor the Norwegian artist’s work, oscillating between surface and depth, experiment and production line, and disclosure and effacement,” says Dr. Berman.

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