Edvard Munch through the Eyes of Andy Warhol

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Edvard Munch (1863-1944) and Andy Warhol (1928-1987): An Unlikely Pair. While Andy Warhol was detached and impenetrably cool, Edvard Munch was tortured and brooding.

After an Edvard Munch exhibition at Galleri Bellman in New York In 1982, the gallery approached Andy Warhol to put his spin on Munch’s images. Warhol visited Oslo to see Munch’s dark lithographs in person, and in 1984, together with his master printer Rupert Jasen Smith, he created his trial proofs on a series based on four of his Norwegian predecessor’s works, “The Scream”, “Madonna”, The Brooch, Eva Mudocci” and “Self-Portrait”.

Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol

Warhol’s interpretations showed a surprising link between the two artists, which has led to several exhibitions of works by the two artists up to this day.

Edvard Munch 1933
Edvard Munch 1933

A more fascinating and successful fusion of Scandinavian and American art might be difficult to conjure up. Warhol has also appropriated works by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli and Giorgio de Chirico, but while he has distorted most of these, his prints after Edvard Munch have left tracing intact.

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Munch was different. In her 2013 catalogue essay Patricia G. Berman, Professor of art history at Wellesley College and the University of Oslo, as well as the New York exhibition’s co-curator, writes, “If Warhol offered himself up as surface, Munch was all impenetrable depth.”

Munch was perhaps as internal and problematic as an artist can get, while Andy Warhol on the contrary made no attempt to conceal that he was all about surface. One time he even stated, “I love plastic. I want to be plastic.”

Eva Mudocci, by Andy Warhol
Eva Mudocci, by Andy Warhol

Still there are considerable similarities in the two artists’ life and art. Munch made multiple of his prints and distributed them throughout Europe, and consumerism was also at the core of Warhol’s work. Both Munch’s “Scream” and Warhol’s “Soup Cans” have been tapped by consumerism.

As Berman rightly points out, “the resulting prints and paintings have impact precisely because the works of both artists are so well known.”

Munch-Warhol at Christiania Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen
Munch-Warhol at Christiania Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen

“Munch and Warhol were both prolific and experimental printmakers. They were both masters of self-invention, and they were both savvy businessmen. Their images find many similarities in the ways in which the two artists built their careers by carefully controlling their public personas and artistic production.”

Both artists used the alterations of color to create different moods in each edition, and the repeating prints show how firmly both grasped the power of the image.

We may ask ourselves: “What is original? What is copy? And does it really matter?” In some of Munch’s works, you can see his own delicate hand-tinting (he used washi, or Japan paper for color) and if we shift our gaze, we will see the more modern silkscreen techniques used by Warhol.

Feature image (on top) Madonna and Self Portrait ny Andy Warhol

Edvard Munch through the Eyes of Andy Warhol, written by Tor Kjolberg