In­grid D. Row­land

To­wards the For­est: Knaus­gård on Munch an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Munch Mu­seum, Oslo Cat­a­log of the ex­hi­bi­tion by Karl Ove Knaus­gård So Much Long­ing on Such a Small Sur­face by Karl Ove Knaus­gård Ed­vard Munch: Be­tween the Clock and the Bed an ex­hi­bi­tion at the M

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - In­grid D. Row­land

To­wards the For­est:

Knaus­gård on Munch an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Munch Mu­seum, Oslo, May 6–Oc­to­ber 8, 2017. Cat­a­log of the ex­hi­bi­tion by Karl Ove Knaus­gård.

Munch Mu­seum, 102 pp., Kr 199.00

Så mye lengsel på så liten flate [So Much Long­ing on Such a Small Sur­face] by Karl Ove Knaus­gård.

Oslo: For­laget Ok­to­ber,

233 pp., Kr 399.00

Ed­vard Munch:

Be­tween the Clock and the Bed an ex­hi­bi­tion at the San Fran­cisco Mu­seum of Modern Art,

June 24–Oc­to­ber 9, 2017; the Met Breuer, New York City, Novem­ber 15, 2017–Fe­bru­ary 4, 2018; and the Munch Mu­seum, Oslo,

May 12–Septem­ber 9, 2018.

Cat­a­log of the ex­hi­bi­tion edited by Gary Gar­rels, Jon-Ove Stei­haug, and Sheena Wagstaff, with a pref­ace by Karl Ove Knaus­gård. Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art,

152 pp., $45.00

In a ca­reer that spanned more than six decades, the Nor­we­gian artist Ed­vard Munch (1863–1944) pro­duced thou­sands of works: wood­cuts, draw­ings, sculp­tures, pho­to­graphs, and rest­less, re­lent­lessly ex­per­i­men­tal paint­ings on can­vas. The Munch Mu­seum in Oslo pre­serves, by its own count, “1,150 paint­ings, 17,800 graphic works, 7,700 draw­ings, 14 sculp­tures and nu­mer­ous pho­to­graphs taken by Munch him­self,” all present in the artist’s stu­dio when he died at eighty, and be­queathed to the city of Oslo in his will. For most of those sixty-plus years, Munch ran a suc­cess­ful busi­ness as a pro­fes­sional painter and graphic artist, ex­hibit­ing in, among other places, Ber­lin, Paris, Dresden, Ham­burg, Cologne, Prague, Copen­hagen, Zürich, Stock­holm, Vi­enna, New York, and Pitts­burgh. Be­tween 1909 and 1914, shortly after his eight-month stay in a Dan­ish psy­chi­atric clinic, he cre­ated eleven mon­u­men­tal paint­ings for the Fes­ti­val Hall of what was then known as the Univer­sity of Kris­tia­nia. (In 1925, Kris­tia­nia took back its orig­i­nal Nor­we­gian name, Oslo.) Elected to the avant-garde Ber­lin Se­ces­sion in 1904, Munch was also awarded such ac­co­lades as the Nor­we­gian Royal Order of Saint Olav (1908) and the French Le­gion of Honor (1934).

From the very be­gin­ning, his paint­ings ex­cited both pas­sion and con­tro­versy: his first solo ex­hi­bi­tion in Ber­lin in 1892 closed after a tu­mul­tuous week

of fist­fights be­tween ad­mir­ers and de­trac­tors. Forty-five years later, in 1937, Adolf Hitler de­clared Munch’s paint­ing “de­gen­er­ate” and forced Ger­man mu­se­ums to elim­i­nate eighty-two of his works from their col­lec­tions. In Nor­way it­self, how­ever, the National So­cial­ist pup­pet gov­ern­ment of Vid­kun Quis­ling paid for a state funeral when Munch died in 1944. His stature within his own coun­try was too great to do other­wise.


Ed­vard Munch was never sim­ply a Nor­we­gian artist. His ap­peal, like his own life, has al­ways been both lo­cal and cos­mopoli­tan at the same time. He may be best known in­ter­na­tion­ally for his an­guished paint­ings of the 1890s, es­pe­cially for the group of works (two paint­ings, two pas­tels, and a litho­graph) he cre­ated be­tween 1893 and 1910 and called, in Ger­man (he

was ex­hibit­ing in Ber­lin), Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Na­ture). In Nor­way, on the other hand, he is at least as well known, and de­servedly so, for his mon­u­men­tal paint­ings in the Fes­ti­val Hall, ded­i­cated to the sun and its pale, oblique Nordic light.

Two re­cent ex­hi­bi­tions, one just closed in Oslo, one just open­ing in New York, sug­gest the broad range of this com­pli­cated but con­sis­tently ca­pa­ble artist. This sum­mer, the Munch Mu­seum, look­ing ahead to its move from ex­ces­sively cramped quar­ters in the hill­side sub­urb of Tøyen to a new high-rise fa­cil­ity on Oslo’s rapidly de­vel­op­ing eastern wa­ter­front, opened its vast store­rooms to an un­usual cu­ra­tor: the Nor­we­gian writer Karl Ove Knaus­gård. Long be­guiled by the artist, about whom he has writ­ten and spo­ken with rare acu­ity, Knaus­gård ac­cepted the in­vi­ta­tion to pre­pare an ex­hi­bi­tion de­signed by the Nor­we­gian firm Snøhetta, cre­ators of the Oslo Opera House and the new Li­brary of Alexan­dria in Egypt. Like Munch him­self, both the au­thor of the six-vol­ume mem­oir My Strug­gle and the Oslo- and New York–based firm that cre­ates “ar­chi­tec­ture, land­scapes, in­te­ri­ors and brand de­sign” are lo­cal fig­ures with an in­ter­na­tional fol­low­ing.*

Most of the 143 paint­ings, sculp­tures, and graphic works in “To­wards the For­est: Knaus­gård on Munch” had never been shown be­fore, hence there was nary a Scream in sight. The ex­hi­bi­tion’s ti­tle and the ti­tles of its sec­tions— “Light and Land­scape,” “The For­est,” “Chaos and En­ergy,” and “The Oth­ers”—pre­sented Munch as a marvelous painter of na­ture, the artist who cre­ated those sun-soaked paint­ings for the Univer­sity Fes­ti­val Hall and re­turned to the gnarled elms of Ekely, his es­tate on the out­skirts of Oslo, as faith­fully, and of­ten as col­or­fully, as Claude Monet re­turned to his haystacks and Paul Cézanne to the laven­der-scented slopes of Mont Sainte-Vic­toire. Munch pur­chased Ekely, a for­mer plant nurs­ery, in 1916, at the height of his wealth and renown, and spent the rest of his life work­ing amid its green­ery and win­try snows­capes, cap­ti­vated by na­ture’s vari­a­tions on a theme that also con­tin­ued to haunt him on a hu­man level: the frieze of life. (The Frieze of Life was the name he gave one of his most fa­mous se­quences of paint­ings.)

Knaus­gård, whose sec­ond novel, A Time for Ev­ery­thing, is set within a gor­geously de­scribed Nor­we­gian for­est, grav­i­tates nat­u­rally to this Munch, “the man who craved colour and em­braced the world, and who loved paint­ing.” “Through­out his life,” Knaus­gård re­minded vis­i­tors to the ex­hi­bi­tion, “through­out all of his var­i­ous phases, [Munch] also painted pic­tures full of light and colour, har­mo­nious and beautiful land­scapes, bare coastal rock for­ma­tions, the ocean, lawns, trees and flow­ers, and later in life, hu­mans at work, in fields or in gar­dens.” It is a world of pop­pies, ver­dant lawns, swim­ming boys do­ing the breast­stroke in the deep blue sea, white-clad women danc­ing in the lemon-col­ored sum­mer sun­light. The wood­cut se­ries called To­wards the For­est I (1897), used for the cat­a­log cover, sets an em­brac­ing

*“Knaus­gård” is the Swedish spell­ing of the writer’s name (he now lives in Swe­den); his pre­vi­ous books have been pub­lished with the Nor­we­gian spell­ing “Knaus­gaard.”

Ed­vard Munch: Sick Mood at Sun­set: De­spair, 1892

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