Munch + Johns
Exhibit highlights Munch’s influence on American abstract painter Jasper Johns
Christine Foster Meloni
Norwegian Edvard Munch and American Jasper Johns are two very different artists with a strong connection. John Ravenal, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia, has highlighted this connection in an outstanding exhibit, “Jasper Johns and Edvard Munch: Love, Loss, and the Cycle of Life.”
Ravenal’s interest in Munch goes back to his childhood. His mother was an art historian who wrote about Munch and took her son to the Washington home of Sally Epstein to see her very large collection of Munch prints.
When he arrived at VMFA, he was struck by an important work by American Jasper Johns that bore the same title as one of Munch’s works, Between the Clock and the Bed. The idea of mounting an exhibit comparing the two artists began to take shape. In collaboration with the Munch Museum in Oslo, his dream became a reality.
The groundbreaking exhibit opened in Oslo in June 2016 before coming to Richmond in November 2016. It displayed more than 120 paintings, drawings, and prints to illustrate how Johns used Munch’s works for inspiration in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was a turning point in Johns’s career as he studied the way Munch worked and began to move away from abstraction to use more recognizable images. His themes also changed to match those of Munch.
The most memorable pairing in the exhibit is the aforementioned Between the Clock and the Bed works. Johns’s painting is still abstract, but the artist has incorporated the cross hatching of Munch’s bedspread in his own. And, most surprising, in addition to the two paintings, Munch’s actual bedspread draped on a bed frame is on display!
Seeing the exhibit in person is, of course, the best way to experience the intriguing comparison of the two artists. Unfortunately, the exhibition ended on Feb. 20. However, it is possible to take an online audio tour of the exhibit by going to the museum’s website at vmfa.museum/tours/jasper-johns-edvard-munch-love-loss-cycle-life-audio-tour. The first tour stop is an introduction by the curator followed by 20 tour stops at works in the exhibit.
The beautiful companion book to the exhibit, Jasper Johns and Edvard Munch: Inspiration and Transformation, can be purchased by going to the museum’s website at vmfashop.com or other online booksellers.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 24, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.