If there is one painting that everyone knows by Edvard Munch, it is The Scream. Even though the #sfmoma Summer of Munch exhibit does not display that iconic image, it is amazing to see the context it which is was painted.
Walking through the galleries, I was transported into each painting, sharing the particular emotion on display from the sorrow and helplessness surrounding his sister’s death, to the fear and anxieties of daily life and social interaction, to the existential dread of being isolated by one’s feelings. As Munch himself wrote, “[t]he angels of fear, sorrow, and death stood by my side since the day I was born.”
The magic of each painting is how they draw you in. Nearly each painting has someone staring out at you; if not Munch himself, then someone else. And even if no one is staring out at you, there is one subject (and only one subject) that is facing you frontally as if addressing you alone. And even if there is no one in the painting looking at you or facing you, there are shadows that seem to be cast by both Munch as the painter as well as yourself as the observer.
The result is that in each painting, you are drawn in, caught in an uncomfortable conversation about things that you’d rather not confront.
Yet despite the discomfort, I feel as though Munch and I could have been friends. Picasso, on the other hand….