Edvard Munch at Berlinische Galerie

Museums today need a great tagline … especially those with a contemporary focus. The plenitude of venues showcasing important modern art these days is astounding.  To put it simply, museums are pulling all the stops out.  And, each and every one is seeking the golden ring of exhibitions to bring in the hordes.

Pouring over the Visit Berlin site (https://www.visitberlin.de/en) for goings on prior to my departure, I caught a photo in a listing for the Berlinische Galerie that captured the museum’s striking architectural double staircase in its central atrium entrance. The current exhibit was a bit of a surprise – Edvard Munch, Magic of the North.  Who could deny the magic of Munch, a man who forever would be known for his infamous The Scream, a work that mesmerized me all the way back to high school.  I got to finally catch The Scream in person thanks to a MOMA show (in 2012) but I missed seeing the full picture of Munch’s oeuvre when The Munch Museum (Munchmuseet) opened in Oslo. When I visited the city, the museum’s grand opening had been postponed, a big letdown!  And while my visit to this Scandinavian city was a treat, especially a stay at The Thief, one of my favorite hotels ever, I don’t think I ever let that loss go. This Berlin show at the Berlinische Galerie looked pretty exciting.

Some background first:  The consensus is that folks don’t know much about Edvard Munch (1863-1944) beyond that famous painting, The Scream. At the turn of the century, Berlin was gripped by a fervor for everything Nordic.  Munch, living there and still largely unknown, was invited to stage a solo exhibition in November 1892.  The 55 works that went on display were so avant-garde that they hit the art community like a bolt of lightning evoking bitter controversy.  Subsequently, the show was dismantled. The “Munch Affair as it was tagged, marked the advent of modern art in the city.

This new modernity was radical for the time and Munch found himself exerting a powerful influence in Berlin as the 20th century dawned.  This exhibition uses 80 paintings, prints and photographs to show that connection between the Norwegian symbolist artist and the German capital.  Essentially, Munch paved the way to modernism and ten years later he was famous all over Germany.

Upon entering the exhibit, Munch’s influence on the public became immediately obvious, for every work came with a small group of viewers planted in front of it lost in deep thought. Much of what was on display seemed to transcend time as the themes explored in many of the paintings are as relevant today as then. And, at the same time, the works showed a new perspective on the North. We see it through his eyes, in his light and in his colors, and the melancholy spirit that was characteristic of his life and art.

The Berlinische Galerie had hit the nail on the head thanks to Thomas Kohler, Director, who was quick to admit that the show is a unique opportunity to enjoy Munch’s top-class works in abundance.  This show, along with the museum’s impressive permanent exhibition Art in Berlin (1880-1980), earn a new kind of tagline in museum going today – “Expect the unexpected.” You’ll find that and more at Berlin’s Berlinische Galerie Museum of Modern Art.

Edvard Munch:  Magic of the North
Now until January 22, 2024
Berlinische Galerie Museum of Modern Art
Public Guided Tours in English every Saturday, 4:15 pm