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It's All Too Human: the Deepest Corners of Munch's Heart in Prints at the British Museum

Updated: Feb 18

I just got off the phone with the police officer and could sort of imagine how the sky turned blood red for my friends and family when they had received an S.O.S. message from my mobile phone... Location – the British Museum, the cell phone – turned off. They anxiously squeeze their heads with their hands, screaming: “Hell knows what’s happening at that enormous abode of historical artifacts?!” Yeah, I’ve caused some hassle and angst for the loved ones today – human, all too human. Anxiously laughing inside at my own silliness, I’m guessing now my mood fits perfectly into the spectrum of Edvard Munch’s emotional roller coaster, depicted in his bold but hauntingly dark prints, brought together for the exhibition “Edvard Munch: Love and Angst”.

Edvard Munch "Separation II" (1896)

Born in nineteenth century, Munch remains relevant through his authentic individual experiences, through the courage to show vulnerability which was outrageous back then but so celebrated and relatable today. The motif of death and loss, love, lust, fear and more – there was no taboo for this rebellious bohemian, who didn’t abide by the religious upbringing rules and quit engineering studies to pursue his artistic calling, in spite of his father calling it an “unholy trade”. Uhhh... Holy cow! Munch might be haunted by his mother and sister’s deaths but now I can also understand how fear and shame were seeded in his innocent head through the narrative of sin and punishment.

As I continue to explore the exhibition, I’m getting more intrigued by Munch’s obsession with female hair – as a symbol of emotional connection and entrapment. Oh, and was he trapped! Such prints like “Separation II” (1896) or “Man’s Head in Woman’s Hair” (1896) reveal the artist’s psychological nuances, maybe his inability to let go of the desire or the opposite – to escape from the trap. In any case it’s difficult not to be captivated when the Munch’s honesty and purity of emotions are persistently evoking my own memories.

Edvard Munch "Angst" (1896)

Somewhere between love and death there is angst which derives from Munch's relationship with mortality. His inclination to see death in the very lively current moment creates a sense of absurdity of human existence. I can’t help but share his note published at the exhibition next to the print called “Angst” (1896) as a little teaser: “why do people’s faces glide past me like a stream, restlessly, incessantly, seeking a destination. I see their hallow eyes – skulls behind the pale masks…”

I dare to say this thought is as cheerful as it is worrying: by reminding about human mortality, it puts a heap of life’s experiences and expectations into perspective, maybe even suggests the majority of human battles aren’t worth fighting. Loads of painful illusions merely explode when we are reminded of our final destination.

Undoubtedly, Munch’s prints are as powerful as his paintings. Strong, dramatic lines, a frequent combination of black and red create emotional intensity which speaks to the viewer with universal language of human psychology. It’s a must-see exhibition for today’s tortured souls, who are all too human to avoid taking wrong turns in life and thus fight their own battles of love and angst.


“Edvard Munch: Love and Angst”

Open until 21 Jul 2019

The British Museum


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