‘Scream’ to Go on View at MoMA
By CAROL VOGEL
Edvard Munch’s 1895 version of “The Scream” — which became the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction when it brought nearly $120 million at Sotheby’s in May — will go on view at the Museum of Modern Art, courtesy of its new mystery owner, for six months, starting on Oct. 24.
“This is an incredible opportunity for our visitors to see something that is otherwise hard to see,” Glenn D. Lowry, the museum’s director, said in a telephone interview.
Munch made four versions of “The Scream” — an image that has become a universal symbol of angst and existential dread — from 1893 to 1910. Three are in Norwegian museums and have not traveled for years. This one, a pastel on board, is the only “Scream” still in private hands and the only one in the United States; it has never before been shown publicly in New York, officials at MoMA say.
Depicting a hairless figure on a bridge under a brilliant yellow-orange sky, the composition was originally conceived by Munch as part of his “Frieze of Life” series, which explores themes of love, angst and death. “Some people call it the Mona Lisa of Modern art,” Mr. Lowry said.
This version, the most colorful of the four, has a frame painted by the artist with a poem describing a walk at sunset (“I felt a whiff of melancholy — I stood/Still, deathly tired”) that inspired the work. (It is also unique among the “Screams” for its background figure turning to look out onto the cityscape.)
The New York financier Leon Black is said to have been the buyer of the pastel at Sotheby’s, but nobody — including Mr. Black himself, officials at Sotheby’s or Mr. Lowry — would confirm that he was the one lending the painting to MoMA.
Mr. Black is a member of MoMA’s board, however (as well as of the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art). He is also one of this country’s foremost collectors, having amassed a world-class art collection that includes paintings by Manet, Cézanne and Degas; drawings by Raphael, Daumier and van Gogh; and sculptures by Brancusi, Gauguin and Degas.
Mr. Black, the chief executive of Apollo Global Management, is said to have developed a passion for art after studying it at Dartmouth College in the early 1970s. He has told friends that he considers “The Scream” particularly important because it is a precursor of 20th-century Expressionism.
The pastel will be on view at MoMA through April 29, hanging in the first gallery on the museum’s fifth floor, along with several prints that Munch made around the same time. “Over the years we have really built up our Munch holdings,” Mr. Lowry said. “But the main focus of the exhibition will be the pastel.”
Security at the museum will be extremely strict. Besides being one of the most recognizable images ever — reproduced on everything from mugs and T-shirts to key chains and inflatable dolls — “The Scream” is also one of the most often tempting to thieves. Versions have been stolen twice, first in 1994, when two burglars fled the National Gallery of Norway in Oslo with an 1893 “Scream” (it was recovered unharmed later that year), and then in 2004, when masked gunmen stole the 1910 version, as well as Munch’s “Madonna,” from the Munch Museum, also in Oslo; both works were recovered two years later.
When Sotheby’s was selling the pastel, it was first put on view in London for five days, and more than 7,500 people passed through airport-style security scanners and bag checks to see it. When it then came to New York, the auction house restricted viewing to Sotheby’s clients only.
At MoMA, Mr. Lowry said: “It is our hope to maintain a normal flow of visitors and show it in a way so the public can best see it. But if the situation warrants, we might have to issue timed tickets.”