The 'Scream' Scheme

Money and masses munch on Munch at MOMA

Norwegian distress signal
Copyright 2012 The Munch Museum/The Munch-Ellingsen Group/Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York
Norwegian distress signal


Edvard Munch: 'The Scream'
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street

If artworks could talk, or, in this case, scream, Munch's painting would yell its little bald head off. But surrounded by some 11, mostly minor works by the artist inside MOMA's dark, battleship-gray galleries, The Scream barely manages a whimper. A picture whose essential artistic purpose was once to communicate the despairing correspondences between man and nature (it was initially titled The Scream of Nature), its blunt blue figures and squiggly orange skies today retain none of their old shock value. Instead, Munch's artworks at MOMA are upended by a much bigger cliché than modern alienation: the lure of big money—a far older temptation found illustrated in Herodotus and the Old Testament. A record of an institutionally endorsed gazillionaire's triumph, MOMA's The Scream and its lesser-known cohorts will no doubt prove a massive letdown for the hordes that will arrive, not to see the famous picture, but to say they have seen it. To them, a word of advice: Forget the $120 million—understanding how this art-hating con was contrived is what's truly priceless.

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