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Karl Ove Knausgård
Karl Ove Knausgård.
Photo: Munchmuseet
Travel Trade

“Scream”, “Madonna” and other well-known paintings have been removed. Author Karl Ove Knausgård wants us to see the painter Edvard Munch in a new light.

Knausgård has spent a lot of time in the basement at the Munch Museum this past year. Together with the museum’s curator, Kari Brandtzæg, he has looked through all of Edvard Munch’s works – slowly but surely and one by one.

The author, who is known worldwide for his six-volume long and highly revealing novel, “My Struggle”, is debuting as a museum curator this spring. The exhibition, “Towards the forest – Knausgård on Munch” will show us something other than that which made the Norwegian artist world famous.

In a video produced by the Munch Museum, Knausgård points out that Munch painted his most famous paintings in the 1890s. For example, Scream was put on canvas in 1893; Madonna in 1894-95.

However, Munch was only 37 years old in 1900, and he continued living – and painting – until the age of 80. Much of what he created during the second half of his life is not particularly well-known, and has never been exhibited.

It is this phase that has interested Knausgård, for as he puts it:

“What do you do once you have painted your masterpieces? Where do you go then?"

The Gift from Edvard

Mot skogen

Mot skogen.
Photo: Munchmuseet

When Munch died in his mansion at Ekely outside of Oslo in 1944, he left all his artwork to Oslo municipality: 1,150 paintings, 17,800 graphic works, 4,500 watercolours, drawings, and 13 sculptures in addition to writings and literary notes.

The exhibition, which lasts from 6 May until 8 October, is named for one of Munch’s works. The title “Towards the Forest” evokes “the menacing and latent aspects of nature, as well as nature in art”.

Knausgård says he wants to show the power of Munch: “his power of expression, emotional impact, wildness and the various expressions it generates”.

“Munch was an extremely intuitive painter, and I believe that even he did not fully know what he was doing.”

The author will provide guests at the museum an opportunity to see Munch for the first time “for who he was; a painter who was never really in a state of calm and who never stagnated”. 

“Towards the Forest – Knausgård on Munch”

The exhibition was shown at the Munch Museum in Oslo between 6 may and 8 October 2017.

Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård (b. 1968) curated the exhibition in collaborated with Kari Brandtzæg of the Munch Museum.

Edvard Munch (1863–1944) is one of modernism’s most important artists.

He bequeathed his collection to Oslo municipality prior to his death.

Munch from a New Perspective

Knausgård & Munch

Knausgård & Munch.
Photo: Munchmuseet

Knausgård purportedly got the idea when he received a gift for his 40th birthday which consisted of all of Munch’s works photographed and collected as a book. He mentioned this in an interview with D2 magazine:

“It was the first time I began to truly see him,” he says in the interview.

By putting the spotlight on some of his other, less known works during a four-month period, Knausgård wished to present something which barely resembles Munch at all.

“If we didn’t know about ‘Madonna’ or any of his other famous paintings, who would Munch have been then? I think this is an important exercise to do because we have such a clear picture of Munch. When we look at ‘Scream’, we’re not able to see it as a painting. We only see it as an icon. Whereas we must see these pictures as paintings because we have never seen them before,” he says to D2.

Fresh, rather than narrow

Solen / The Sun

Solen / The Sun.
Photo: Munchmuseet

Photo: Munchmuseet

The laborious work in the museum basement at Tøyen is now completed, and Knausgård and curator Brandtzæg now have over 100 paintings and 30 graphic works.

According to the Munch Museum, Knausgård now intends to use these to “establish moods and tones which will be conveyed to those who make their way through the exhibition halls”.

“We have not paid any attention to chronology or biography. There will also not be any titles or years displayed. It will be a much freer and more emotionally charged path into the artistry of Munch,” says Brandtzæg to D2, and adds:

“There has long been a very narrow, agreed upon and biological focus on Munch, based on the ‘Frieze of Life’ paintings which have reappeared in various themes. Karl Ove puts forth a new and fresh narrative”.

The Dance of Nature

Knausgård & Munch

Knausgård & Munch.
Photo: Munchmuseet

Nature is a recurring theme. Whereas the exhibition’s first room is full of light and sunshine and people in gardens and parks, the faces and figures gradually disappear as you move along.

“The landscapes, which are all that remain, are ambivalent entities – the isolation of a human-less void meets the force and wildness of nature: for Munch, the forest was not just a place where something ended, but also a place where something got started,” says Knausgård according to the Munch Museum.

The last room will be filled with portraits because Knausgård believes that Munch’s art relates to relations; one’s relationship to other people. He wanted to demonstrate this in a simple manner.

“At the same time, Munch was a magnificent portrait painter; he not only saw who people were, he was also able to capture their essence and convey this – just as he could do with a landscape or a tree,” remarks Knausgård.

He is also publishing a book about Edvard Munch in connection with the exhibition. Here, readers can read the author’s reflections on the painter’s life and paintings.

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