For those who read Norwegian, here is the full press dossier. One extremely negative, the others all very positive, one (below) a model of understanding and clarity. Press dossier Emma and Edvard
The first review, written by the best-known art critic of Norway in the largest newspaper, Aftenposten, was an enormous surprise and totally satisfying. Here is the original
The English translation of his review:
The best Munch exhibition I have ever seen!
By Kjetil Røed, Aftenposten
The Munch Museum’s exhibitions have long been a seemingly perpetual list of male counterparts. Now it’s the ladies’ turn.
Munch is Munch, you may be thinking. But, no, it needs not be so. Mieke Bal, who is both the artist and curator of this exhibition, uses Munch’s works to reflect on the disparity between fantasy and reality that most people suffer.
The result is the most interesting Munch exhibition I have seen.
Rose Red dreams
Along with Munch we meet artist Michelle Williams Gamaker and Mieke Bal’s Madame B, an adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary (1857). The work is divided into several parts and is scattered around the exhibition.
Here we meet a woman with rosy dreams of love, who is hugely disappointed when she experiences the reality of marriage. Neither lovers nor shopping help her get past the dream images that define her. She sees neither herself nor others. It ends with loneliness and isolation, death and destruction.
The story of Madame B examines what happens when you become captive of your dreams and lose touch with reality and what it requires of you.
Bovary’s loneliness is reflected in Munch, especially in the work The Wedding of the Bohemian (1929), where we see a woman deeply unhappy at her own wedding. So did Bovary. The grim, male, guests hardly even recognize her existence. In Munch’s art people also fail to see each other, they are more concerned about themselves and their social masks. If we can find a loving fellowship in Munch’s art, it is often something off about it, like the embrace that melts the two lovers faces into to an anonymous patch in The Kiss (1897).
As a rebuttal to Bovary’s self-deception, many Munch works are masculine fantasies about the woman. The woman is seen either as an unattainable ideal, like Madonna (1894), or a threat, as the redhead in Nude with long hair (1902) - where the painter has aggressively scratched up the model’s painted body.
Both Emma and Edward are captured by dream images. But in this exhibition the fantasies are set in conjunction with each other in the gallery space.
The works are actually in such concrete dialogue that the people in them look at each other across the room. The works are alive, talking together, now.
This violates a logic where the work’s frames are marking the boundaries of what is happening in it. Bal wants us to think “cinematically”: what we see in the framework is only a fragment of a far more comprehensive narrative. We, the viewers, must unravel the threads of what falls outside the picture.
Edward and Emma is an exhibition where the main story takes place in the minds of whoever is experiencing it - as demonstrated by the exhibition’s last “work”: a mirror.
Dream up the continuation
The mirror is connected with the missing link between the people in the images and the fantasies they are caught in, and at the same time as we are placed in the middle of the dialogue between the works.
Because we go around with fantasies that deviate from the reality we find ourselves in. Perhaps one dreams about becoming a successful crime writer or star chef? Or maybe some days on a sunny island beckons? A new partner? Are we trapped by dreams - or not?
The exhibition is a platform to think about our own self-deception and the inability to see reality - and other people - directly.
There are not only works of art that opens our minds to greater progress and more practical application. Literature and art are presented across more conventional ways to frame art and literature - which helps make this one of the most interesting exhibitions I’ve seen in a long time.
“Edward and Emma” also feels liberatingly less about Munch or his “greatness”. Bal uses, almost as a matter of course, art as a tool for thinking through common general human issues. That’s a good idea if the goal is to grasp what the value of art is.
In short: It’s what we need art for.
By Kjetil Røed, Aftenposten, 27 (online) and 29 (paper) January 2017
In the academic journal Nordisk Museologi 2017, 1: 152-57 Thea Arabakke published an extensive review of the exhibition. For a PDF of the review, see reviewarabakke.pdf
I made a rough translation into English:
How to exhibit a novel? And can an exhibition of Munch’s paintings together with living
pictures give us a new perception of his work? With video installation and painting in
interaction, the Munch Museum invites us to a new presentation of Gustave Flaubert’s classic Madame Bovary and Edvard Munch’s works.
The last couple of years has the Munch Museum in Oslo had a great audience success with the + Munch series, where Munch’s work has been exhibited together with respectively Bjarne Melgaard, Vincent van Gogh, Gustav Vigeland, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jasper Johns and Asger Jorn’s works. This year
they are another step in their exhibition concept. In Emma & Edvard - love in the time of loneliness it is the story of loneliness that is unfolded for the audience, through the characters Emma and Edvard presented in video installations and paintings.
Unlike a recent masculine art meeting, the female character now introduced is
Emma, presented through Mieke Bal’s and Michelle Williams Gamaker’s videos. The Dutch cultural theorist and artist Bal is also the curator for the exhibition, Ute Falck from The Munch Museum is co-curator.
Iforlengelseav + Munch serienkanmanspørre tell us why this exhibition has gotten
the name Mieke + Munch, since Bal is both a curator
and participate in own works.
+ Munch Series
had a comparative showdown with focus on technique, shape, motives and sometimes biographical life, as back in 2015 there were two chronological
timelines made to compare van Gogh and Munch’s artistic expression, their conflicting lives and how Paris became a turning point for both of them. But if neither
a historical time picture of Munch’s life nor his development as an artist to be believed,
who are Emma and Edvard?
Emma is the protagonist of the video installation that appears in the exhibition. It is based on a movie by Bal and Gamaker from 2013, Madame B, which is an interpretation of Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary from 1857. During the curator’s event
in connection with the opening ceremony of the exhibition Bal said that Edvard is a character in Munch’s paintings and pictures should not be confused with the artist
self. Bal uses the story of Emma and Edvard as a means of seeing Munch’s paintings and maybe even Munch in new ways. Through topics like turmoil, loneliness,
desperation and imagination the exhibition wishes to make the audience reflect on the interaction between the works. This is on the museum’s website.
The reflection can also be transferred to your own
life - if we allow it.
REMEDIATING, LITERATURE AS A FILM
AND PAINTING AS PHOTOGRAPHY
Eight video installations and seventy five of Munch’s paintings, lithographs and woodcut fill the entire Munch Museum exhibition areas spread over seven
rooms. The walls have a light gray color and the rooms
is divided into seven themes, respectively, “Cinematic
means and loneliness’; “Fostering and formation”;
“Fantasies”, “Solitude”; “Resurrection”; “In the depths”
Tematil <: in the first room invites visitors to look at Munch’s paintings unlike photographs, such as still images and thus events caught in moments that really are in motion and on the way out of the image area. Here is there are no video installations and for visitors;
the room can act as an introduction on how to see Munch’s paintings with the live image, which introduced the exhibition in the other rooms.
The movie Madame B is a remediation of Flaubert’s novel, where the story of Emma
and her fate is told through moving pictures instead of text. Remediation shows
to the logic of new media where older practices will be presented in a new format. It involves not just new technological practices, but is a transformation of existing media
(Bolter & Grusin 1999). By placing Munch’s paintings along with the video installations, the show outlines the photographic and cinematic potential in Munch’s work and get visitors practiced in a distinctive method that is to read exhibitions like
narrative and film (Figure 1). In Munch’s choice of perspective, she recognizes the photographic. The section where the characters in the subject are cut to the waist looks like snapshots rather than portraits. It is as if the people are in motion, and soon out of the picture after Munch has frozen one moment at Karl Johan, on a brothel or in
a wedding. In “Exhibition as film” (2007) Bal argues for the visitors and the works raised in a western capitalist society living with the expectation of having constant sense of happiness which one tries to maintain by buying stuff. The purchase is short-lived and leads to a bigger spending where you spend money beyond your means and ending in debt. Flaubert wrote the novel as a comment to the society of his day,
while Bal and Gamaker have chosen to place the story about Emma in our own time. Madame B has been transformed from a costume drama from the 19th century to make Flaubert’s playful of the time capitalist alienation relevant today.
In the video installations, we see Emma’s tragic fate as a result of unrealistic expectations for the life she has chosen, and of the longing after the experience of love. In order not to feel loneliness she begins sexual relations outside marriage and develops a large material consumption. Emma’s men she begins affairs with are being played by the same actor, who also has the role of her husband, Charles.
This is a cinematic conception that the book cannot do but points to Bal and Gamaker’s interpretation of Emma’s choice: it’s not love for the men that drives Emma into adultery, but her longing and the search for love. This also shows us a concise example of how remediation gives new playroom in the transfer from one medium to another.
A NEW INTERPRETATION ROOM
The story about Emma in the video installations gives Munch’s workers a new context. The curator has chosen the paintings for key themes in the video installations. It also makes directly comparable connections between the image motifs and the scenes. The assembly of the exhibition is made so that more of the works speak to each other,
for example, Emma’s wedding scene and the painting of The wedding of the Bohemian (Figure 3) placed on opposite walls in the same room.
The exhibition flier with a short introductory text to each room and its theme is absolutely necessary to understand what video installations and the paintings can tell us. This is for borrowing at the museum and the directions needed in the exhibition. Thus it can be sparse with explanatory text on walls. Bal wants the audience to be active observers, take part in the story and thus become co-authors. The effect is that this binds together
the different impressions and experiences we are confronted with in the various installations.
The connection between the works comes through the story of Emma and Edvard,
a connection that we as a visitor activate and create (Bal 2007: 75). In every room
benches are placed in front of Munch’s paintings, where you can sit down and watch them. The sound from the video installations are heard while we study the paintings, and by assembling many of the works on the wall they invite us to the benches, giving us the opportunity to devote time to each section. Sitting on the bench I can consider both painting and movies and so on, see new things in Munch’s motifs I have not seen before. The video sequence from Emma’s wedding fits with Munch’s Bohemian wedding. They stand up against each other and thereby invite new interpretations of a known work.
Emma’s despair in the wedding scene is projected to the bride in the center of the motif of Bohemian wedding.
In the exhibition’s Title is easy to associate the character Edvard to Edvard Munch and with those familiar with the novel behind the video installation we get to know Emma and her life. But how can the audience know Edvard?
In Emma & Edvard it is not clearly Edvard Munch’s personage. This unclarity is also a part of making this exhibition interesting. As a curator, Bal has selected more of Munch’s self-portraits, but in the exhibition these should represent a character in Munch’s work. The way this is handled suggests that all representation is an interpretation and
manufacture, whether it is Munch’s own self-portrait or Bals’ curation of his work. In
her curator’s speech Bal stated that she wants to save Munch from his own
biography and that we must put away what we know about Munch’s own life before we enter the exhibition. I perceive Mieke Bal as uninterested in the artist behind the work, but rather that she encourages us to get to know the artist through the work.
Flaubert is said to have stated that the character Emma was based on himself and therefore, through the nuances in the video installation we are not only familiar with the novel Madame Bovary, but also with Flaubert.
FLAUBERT + MUNCH
As another proposal, the exhibition could be seen as an extension of the thematic exhibitions of previous years, which would then get the name Flaubert + Munch.
Ball leads painter and author together in a common theme tag about loneliness, media usage, and how the works are in relation to each other, talking together. We see clear and subtle conversations between Emma and Edvard, which opens up new questions we can ask to Munch’s motives and as human beings, but also to Emma.
The film Madame B reintroduces the novel Madame Bovary, or Emma, in modern
costumes and gives the classic novel from the middle of the 19th century timelines for a new audience. For those who have more interest after that the exhibition visit is over, they can find the novel as part of the museum shop’s range.
The exhibition has largely been well received by critics in Norwegian newspapers. Aftenposten’s reviewer described it as the Munch Museum’s best exhibition to date, and Lars Elton from Dagsavisen praised the exhibition theme for its unpleasant
topicality (Bahr 2017, Elton 2017). The critics seem to agree that the visual exhibition design and presentation of Munch’s works and Bals video installations is successful.
By integrating Munch’s pictures, they meet the living image Bal has been able to see his paintings in a new way, as the audience is also given the opportunity to discover. But not all the reviewers have been similarly excited about Bals vision of Munch’s work. Morgenbladet reviewer Oda Bahr criticizes Bal for her interpretation of Munch as blowing up his soulful expression of melancholy, passion and longing as confused or united to the common denomination loneliness (Røed 2017). But Bal insists that Edvard is a character in Munch’s work and thus relieves the historical context that Bahr calls for.
Edvard is not Munch himself, but a character Bal believes she finds in his work and the self it helps to create. Her dual role as both artist and curator exceeds a traditional
curator role and she plays with the distinction between imagination and reality.
The exhibition works well on several levels and there are many themes that can be analyzed to provide a fuller picture of its scope. Bals interdisciplinary approach and her narrative production on exhibition as a film, gives the audience a basis for even experiencing the story which plays on canvas and screens, between painting and video. The theme of the exhibition and the interpretation of Flaubert’s novel are actualized and make the audience participate in the exhibition’s story as we move forward in Emma’s and Edvard’s history, room after room. The exhibition
gives inconvenient answers, but it opens to great existential questions and abilities while presenting both a historical novel and Edvard Munch’s work in a new context. Bal is coping with showing a little explored potential in her curation of Munch’s paintings. Emma & Edvard – Love in the time of loneliness challenges the traditional perception of how literature and biographical life can be exhibited.
Bahr, Oda 2017. “Love in the time of boredom: ‘ Morgenbladet, February 2, 2017.
Bal, Mieke 2007. “Exhibition as film.” Sharon Macdonald & Paul Ed (ed.). Exhibition
Experiments. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 71-93.
Bolter, Jay David, & Richard Grusin 1999. Remediation. Understanding New Media.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Elton, Lars 2017. “Love and loneliness in modern time. “Dagsavisen, January 31, 2017.
Illouz, Eva 2007. Cold Intimacies. The Making of Emotional Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Røed, Kjetil 2017. “The best Munch exhibition I have seen! “Aftenposten, January 27, 2017.
Thea Aarabakke, MA, PhD fellow, Háskólinn í Sogn og Fjordane / IKOS,
University of Oslo
thea. Aarbakke @ ikos. uio. no
Professor Jakob Lothe published a fantastic review in Theatre Journal, Volume 69, Number 4, December 2017, pp. 594-596
The full review can be read here: reviewoslojakob.pdf
I was able to collect just a few comments from visitors. Many more remained oral comments I happened to hear when I was in the galleries.
On February 8, a Dutch visitor wrote the following comment: Olga M. Teunissen
Today I saw the exhibit, what a surprise! The concept of selecting 7 (8) central themes so dominating in the lives of Munch and Mme Bovary is impressive. It grabs you by the throat and one doesn’t have enough senses to explore it all. Tomorrow I like to visit again ;-) olgamaria”.
When I asked her if she was Dutch, as her name suggested, she wrote this:
“I have been several times at the Munch Museum, but this was the best exhibition ever. The beginning with two sets of screens one after another was already so fascinating that one is completely surprised. For me, Munch’s work received much more profound meaning due to the parallels.”
The next day, February 9, the same visitor wrote:
“I went again today and discovered more details. My experience is also ‘narrative’. At the end I stood still for a while, looking at my own mirror image.” About other visitors she wrote: “young visitors of the Barnehagen (pre-schoolers) and groups of high school students, who were very interested. Older people as well. You reach all ages with your exhibition.”
On February 14 Jeannette Christensen, an Oslo-based artist, wrote this after her visit:
I saw Emma + Edvard and I enjoyed it so much! I found it really transgressive, the way the videos and your choice of paintings spoke together, but also the sense of time. Then and now. So many paintings by Munch I have never seen before. The different ways the video was cut in different sequences worked very well with the selected paintings and also the variation of screens and ways of showing the videos. I think it all came together as a very well planned whole. Being able to sit and watch not only the videos but also the paintings, was so good. It really made me want to and also able to spend the needed time. I sat on the bench and studied Munch’s embrace and noticed for the first time the little figure down on the street in the corner of the painting under the curtain. What a thrill. It just made so much sense, the way you have thought out the low hanging and seating. I can’t remember ever seeing anything like this exhibition, that kind of dialogue, with a remediated literary figure, an author, a painter and his paintings, it all felt like meant to be! It was distressing to watch Emma and it did make me look at the relationships in Munch’s paintings differently. Now I need to spend time with your book. Enough for now, bed time!
On February 17 Jakob Lothe, a professor of English at the University of Oslo, wrote this comment in the News & Events section:
The successful execution of a brilliant idea, this exhibition is not just worth seeing, it is compulsive viewing. For me, there are three main reasons for this - reasons that are linked and blend into each other. First, by juxtaposing Munch and Flaubert the way she does in this exhibition, Mieke Bal improves my understanding of both Munch’s visual art and Flaubert’s verbal art - not by making each of them less original but, conversely, by showing how, using different forms of artistic expression, both artists explore variants of human experience of loneliness in the modern era. The relevance, urgency and authenticity of these explorations strongly suggest that, in one important sense at least, this era is not yet over. Second, Bal’s dual focus on the visual and the verbal not only enables me to see how strongly visual Flaubert’s writing is in “Emma Bovary”, thus making me more appreciative of the thematic effects of verbal visualization. It also enables me to understand better how readable Munch’s painting is: seeing the exhibition, I “read” Munch’s paintings not least by responding to the elements of narrative of which they are possessed, and these narrative elements bear a significant relation to aspects of Flaubert’s verbal narrative. Third, when I write “Flaubert” here I actually refer to Bal’s video installations from “Madame B”. Looking at Munch, I am also looking at installations in which actors present, or perform, different phases of the lives of Emma and her husband Charles. The performativity of the act of looking is striking in several of the video scenes, and it is created not least by Bal’s innovative use of perspective and variants of temporal and spatial distance. As modulations of perspective and distance are constituent elements of Munch’s visual art and Flaubert’s verbal art also, Bal’s filmic art adds a third dimension to the presentation of loneliness while at the same time improving the viewer’s understanding of that of Munch and Flaubert. I strongly recommend this wonderful exhibition.
On March 30, Benoît Maire, a French artist, made the trip from Bordeaux to Oslo just to visit the exhibition. He wrote this about his experience:
I really do not regret having made the trip!
The exhibition is superb, and seeing the freedom you take regarding the hanging of what has become a great classic painter is a great pleasure, so the dialogue with your films works very well and on several levels, in the general sense, but also some details of framing and situations, water, night-time atmospheres, frames of mirrors, the woman invaded by hands …
The technical presentation of your films does not interfere in any way with the paintings, but the processes respond to each other. I think for example the way you have to let the characters spin in the blur as if the camera stopped on a focus and then let the character go away in its blur.
Munch’s cinematic vision is also very strong in the exhibition, and we come out with questions, sensations and a kind of renewed vision.
Conference Modern Sensibilities March 23-24
This conference was organized to discuss in more depth the underlying issues - philosophical, aesthetic, cultural-historical - that the exhibition is based on. Around the turn of the nineteenth century, the changes that had occurred in the social world of the half-century that separated Munch’s establishment as a modern artist from Flaubert’s modern novel Madame Bovary had led to a culture that explored sensations unsaid and unheard, unseen and un-understood outside of established religion, teaching, and government. Munch himself spoke of “the modern life of the soul” to describe his intense sensibilities that inspired but also hampered him in his quest for art that would be able to address those. Poul Erik Tøjner wondered if we should consider Munch “a conceptual artist of the senses” (2001: 43). Bringing thought and the senses together, this formulation offers a starting point for a discussion of the issues brought up in the exhibition Emma and Edvard Looking Sideways held at the Munch Museum from February 3 to April 28, 2017.
The seminar explores the consequences for art and literature and their study of modern sensibilities. In addition to the exhibition curator, Mieke Bal, it brings together scholars from a range of orientations and disciplines, who will present from different national and historical contexts their view of how this concept and its derivations help us to see Munch and Flaubert in a different light, relevant for today.
Ernst van Alphen (NL)
Jonathan Culler (USA)
Miguel Ángel Hernández Navarro (SP)
Kristin Gjesdal (NO)
Griselda Pollock (UK)
See here for an explanation and interview