While in Oslo I visited the “Mapplethorpe + Munch” exhibition being held in Oslo’s Munch Museum. The show juxtaposes photos by the American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and artwork by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch.
When I read about the exhibition, I was skeptical if the concept would work. After all, Munch was an expressionist painter working with bright colours and lights, while Mapplethorpe worked in black and white, subtle lighting and formal arrangements, no matter the subject matter. Plus, a century separates the lives of the two artists, a century of shifting moral values and understanding of human sexuality.
So I was pleasantly surprised to find that, indeed, the concept worked very well. While at times Munch’s bright paintings did jar with Mapplethorpe’s somber photos, other art work by Munch (the drawings, printings and the woodcuts) did instead complement the photos. Thematically, there were a lot more similarities than might be obvious. Both artists covered a range of the same topics: self portraiture, an exploration of the nude figure (both male and female), desire (more explicit in Mapplethorpe, but quite present in Munch as well). They both made a living by capturing portraits of famous people, and towards the end of their lives reflected on bodily decay and death.