Edvard Munch (1863-1944) is perhaps the most famous painter in modern Norwegian history, his life and work remembered and put on display at the Munch Museum at Tøyen in Oslo.
The last few years, however, the museum has put Munch’s art in a more modern context as well. A project called +Munch consists of six separate, consecutive exhibitions of Norwegian and international artists, whose works will be used to form a critical dialogue with Munch's oeuvre.
It did not go unnoticed when one of the most controversial exhibitions so far, Mapplethorpe + Munch, opened this weekend.
Robert Mapplethorpe was a famous photographer, known for exploring New York’s underground gay BDSM scene, before dying of AIDS in 1989. His works also included celebrity portraits, male and female nudes, self-portraits and images of flowers.
So, what kind of new perspectives arise when you put two wildly different artists next to each other? Quite a lot, according to Norwegian critics – who mostly praise the exhibition:
– The problem with artists such as Munch is that we so easily are blinded by their works, because of the agreement of their importance. We need a new perspective on what we are seeing. To display Munch in a homoerotic light will probably shock some, but for me it’s precisely this kind of shake-up of our national icon that will allow fresh perspectives, writes Kjetil Røed, art critic in Norway’s largest newspaper Aftenposten.
Even though many of the art critics underline the differences between the two artists, curator Jon-Ove Steihaug at the Munch Museum is also able to point at some actual similarities:
– Widespread use of traditional genres, primarily portraits and nudes. Another is the existential expression that permeates their art in different ways. Other commonalities can be found in their self-understanding as artists and in the way they both caused a scandal with their art. Both were members of a bohemian subculture of artists that defied the establishment of their era.
This April, HBO is releasing a new documentary about Robert Mapplethorpe in the US. A movie based on the artist’s life is also in the works, with Matt Smith («Dr. Who») set to play Mapplethorpe. Zosia Mamet («Girls») will play the musician Patti Smith, Mapplethorpe’s best friend.
Mapplethorpe + Munch can be seen at the Munch museum until May 28, 2016.