SFMOMA offers antidote to the Summer of Love

Jun 30, 2017

Have you already overdosed on the Summer of Love commemorations? Do you need an antidote? Then you should see the new exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed. It has nothing to do with that pivotal event.

Just reading the titles of Munch’s works will give you an idea of what to expect: “The Smell of Death,” “Self Portrait with Spanish Flu,” “Man with Bronchitis,” and “Sick Mood at Sunset: Despair.”

That latter work will bring to mind this Norwegian painter’s most iconic image, “The Scream.” It contains the same pier going off into the distance, under a sunset the color of coagulated blood. (“The Scream” is not in this exhibit.)

Munch’s work is not well known in the U.S., aside from “The Scream” and its assorted novelty items. He kept much of it for himself, so he is not well represented in American museums or private collections. Interestingly, the last major public showing of Munch’s work was at San Francisco’s de Young museum, in 1951. Most of his artistic output was donated to the city of Oslo upon his death: 1,150 paintings, nearly 18,000 prints, 7,700 drawings and about a dozen sculptures. He may have been reclusive, but he wasn’t idle!

There are over a dozen self-portraits included here, two prominently featuring wine bottles, the contents of which contributed to his death. “Having suffered from alcohol abuse, hallucinations and partial paralysis,” one of the museum wall texts explains, “the painter ... committed himself to a Copenhagen clinic.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s a gallery of four paintings labeled “Love.” This isn’t blissful 1967 San Francisco hippie love however. The accompanying wall text informs viewers that “throughout the room love is portrayed as a zero-sum game.”

“Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed” is on exhibit at SFMOMA until October 9.