Echoing the Scream: Andy Warhol Prints after Edvard Munch

By Stave, Pari | Scandinavian Review, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Echoing the Scream: Andy Warhol Prints after Edvard Munch


Stave, Pari, Scandinavian Review


An ASF exhibition of Warhol's take on four Munch paintings coincides with the 150th anniversary of the great Norwegian artist's birth.

IT IS HARD TO IMAGINE AN ODDER COUPLE THAN THE existentialist-expressionist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) and the detached, dispassionate Andy Warhol (1928-1987), yet an exhibition at Scandinavia House reveals remarkable affinities between the two unusually prolific and inventive artists. Comprising more than thirty works, Munch/Warhol and the Multiple Image offers a close examination of four motifs in Munch 's lithographic prints and their reformulation in a series of screenprints created by Warhol in 1984.

Timed to coincide with Munch 150, the yearlong celebration marking the sesquicentennial of Munch's birth, Munch/Warhol will be on view from April 27-July 27, 2013. Both the exhibition and accompanying catalogue were organized by The American-Scandinavian Foundation (ASF) and co-curated by Dr. Patricia G. Berman, a leading authority on Munch, and Pari Stave, ASF consulting curator. Together, the exhibition and catalogue illustrate the ways in which both Munch and Warhol used printmaking as an experimental medium, exploring abiding motifs through seriality, variation and permutation. At the same time, the comparison reveals Munch and Warhol as marketing strategists who employed prints to augment their respective commercial enterprises.

Munch 's four motifs - The Scream, Self-Portrait, Madonna (all 1895) and The Brooch. Eva Mudocci (1903) - all date from his symbolist period, when he first began making prints. They show the artist's early use of printmaking as an experimental tool through which to develop his meditations on anxiety, alienation, mortality, eroticism and ideal beauty. Among the rare images included in the exhibition is a unique trial proof for Self- Portrait, showing the subject's head and shoulders in a vaguely defined space. The enigmatic image can be compared with the more widely known version in which only the artist's head is shown, silhouetted against near-total blackness - an effect that Munch achieved through the heavy application of tusche, a black liquid employed in drawing on the lithographic stone.

In Warhol's Self-Portrait with Skeleton Arm (After Munch), Munch 's print has been blown up more than fifteen times its original size, and Warhol has added his own lines to the composition, in gray. In Warhol's other iterations of Self-Portrait, the image is united with Munch's Madonna, and the pair is printed in an assortment of color combinations that further alter the visual effect and meaning of Munch's elegiac self-image.

By copying and manipulating Munch's prints Warhol made them his own. As Berman describes in the exhibition catalogue, the "dazzling colors transform Munch's intimately scaled paints, with their integral surface patterning and stark value contrasts, into decorative and cheerful echoes of the angsty Originals'. The printed versions are vibrant with DayGlo colors and improbably amplified details. In color, facture, stylization and scale, they are signature 'Warhols,' the products of a long-recognized stylistic and technical branding."

BUT, AS BERMAN NOTES, THE PROCESS OF TRANSFORMATION and brand-building had started with Munch himself. "Munch's prints had already been the object of his own repetition and appropriation as he reinterpreted, amended and reshaped their motifs for new creative ends and for the marketplace. . . . One of his great legacies is the way in which he produced multiple and multiplied originals, works that issued from a particular matrix but were made singular through hand amendments, manipulations for the matrices and stencils or through unusual selections of paper. In this way, Munch subverted the notion of the accountable, editioned print."

The event that gave rise to Warhol's After Munch seri es took place at New York's Galleri Bellman, which in late 1982 presented an exhibition of 126 paintings and prints by Munch that Warhol visited on several occasions. …

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