“The Scream”, arguably the most iconic image in art, is the centrepiece of a new museum dedicated to its creator Edvard Munch that opens in Oslo on Friday, but visitors won’t know which of its many versions they will see until they arrive.
The figure holding its head in a swirling red sunset was inspired by a stay in Berlin in 1892 when the Norwegian, then aged 28, was a leading light of the Symbolist movement.
Between 1893 and 1910, Munch painted The Scream many times using different techniques. The waterfront museum will have access to three of those canvases but show only one at a time as they are very fragile, said its director, Stein Olav Henrichsen.
Since Munch’s death in 1944 the image had replicated countless time in pop culture, on T-shirts, an as inflatable and latterly as an emoji.
“Anyone could see themselves in that character,” said the museum’s curator Trine Otte Bak Nielsen.”
It’s not clear if it’s a man or a woman, and there is something with that directness and the strong colours and lines, all of it suggesting the figure and the landscape fusing into a very strong symbol.
“While Munch’s other best known motifs, including “Puberty” and “Madonna”, also date back to the 1890s, he worked out of his home in the outskirts of Oslo from 1916 and ended up storing two-thirds of his produced artwork there.
He left that legacy to the city, then occupied by German troops, in his will when he died, Henrichsen said. “He was afraid of what the Nazis would do to him as an artist and to his collection,” he told Reuters.
The museum’s striking presence in the city has been a subject of debate in Oslo for years.
The 13-floor building’s gun metal grey facade and striking top-heavy profile towers over the opera house, a public library and residential buildings – all built in recent years as part of an urban renewal project to replace a busy container port.
While the museum’s vast Munch collection will be its main pull, it will house other exhibitions and activities as well, said contemporary art curator Tominga Hope O’Donnell.
“It is going to be a place for cutting-edge new production where we have performance art and where you can come and see some of the best the city has to offer,” she said.