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
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
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