Press Releases : 2012/10

Norway at the 55th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia 2013

Published 2012/10/29

Edvard Munch, The Murderer, Oil on canvas, 1910.
© Munch-museet/Munch-Ellingsen gruppen/ BONO, Oslo 2012

Norsk versjon

Office for Contemporary Art Norway and Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa


Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa
Galleria di Piazza San Marco
San Marco 71/c
30124 Venice, Italy

31 May–6 October 2013 (TBC)

'Beware of the Holy Whore: Edvard Munch and the Dilemma of Emancipation' is a project co-organised by the Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OCA) and Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa in Venice, Italy, as the official Norwegian representation at the 55th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia in 2013. The project, curated by Marta Kuzma, Director, OCA, Angela Vettese, President, Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa and Pablo Lafuente, Associate Curator, OCA, revolves around emancipation as an issue always vexed with contradiction – between the realm of freedom and the consequences of the isolation that often accompanies pursuing a qualitatively different, ‘alternative’ life. In his Essay on Liberation, Herbert Marcuse noted that this striving toward what is essentially a ‘new sensibility’ involves a psychedelic, narcotic release from the rationality of an established system, as well as from the rationality that attempts to change that system. This new sensibility, which resides in the gap between the confines of the existing order and those of true liberation, might lead to a radical transformation – and in this transformation art serves as a technique through which to reconstruct reality from its illusion, its imitation, even its harmony, towards a reality not yet given, still to be realised.

The impulse to operate in the margins – on the outside trying to break in or on the inside redefining the context – is one of the key driving forces in the history of art, and is also at the centre of 'Beware of the Holy Whore: Edvard Munch and the Dilemma of Emancipation'. The exhibition, which will take place at Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa’s gallery at Piazza San Marco, will bring together works from the collection of the Munch Museum in Oslo in order to explore Edvard Munch’s position within and response to the age of emancipation in which he lived, where sexual norms and traditional gender roles were challenged amid new psychological theories of sex and politics and a struggle for women’s equality. Challenged by social developments and psycho-emotional expression, Munch faced the alienation that characterised a society (the Kristiania Bohemia) bidding for emancipation but trapped in ‘reality’, struggling between two options: assimilating shared values, or going beyond them in order to construct a new frame for perception. As Munch’s illustrations for Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal warned, sex might bring death.

Munch’s emphatic treatment of these themes from 1902 to 1908, before entering the asylum, reflected an internal ambiguity and anguish. Munch described this period as an ‘eternal civil war’, after which his work moved to a more distanced treatment of subjects, in social caricatures in which he offers an ironic critique of an increasingly capitalist and permissive society. In Social Studies: Cause and Effect, made shortly after, Munch also reflected upon the conditions of artistic production and its reception, via patronage, sales, criticism and public opinion, opening new dimensions for his work, from a psychological perspective into social and historical realms.

The ‘pile of humanity’ or ‘human mountain’, a recurrent motif in Munch’s work since the early 1890s, is a pivotal element for 'Beware of the Holy Whore: Edvard Munch and the Dilemma of Emancipation', in its reflection on an emancipatory drive that might conclude in tragedy. While some of the sketches, illustrations, drawings and lithographs of the versions portray the human mountain as a platform for what looks like a move towards true liberation, others show a sarcophagus at the mountain’s pinnacle – an allegory that reflects Munch’s deep ambivalence towards the new times, their promises and their possibilities, and that expresses the dilemma of emancipation.

For further information on this project, please contact Antonio Cataldo, OCA’s Senior Programme Coordinator.