Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Classic Edvard Munch Film; Lisa Adams: Vicissitudes of Circumstance; MFA Debate Video

Director Peter Watkins’ classic 1974 film Edvard Munch is a rich and complex look at the life of the angst-ridden Norwegian artist in his native Kristiania (now Oslo), from roughly 1884 to 1894, the formative years in his early career. Filmed in the style of a documentary, period characters speak directly to the camera in their native Norwegian with English subtitles, while the film is narrated in English. Artfully interwoven are scenes from Munch’s childhood, of his older sister and mother dying of tuberculosis (a disease that almost claimed the young Edvard as well), Munch’s love affair with the married “Mrs. Heiberg,” as well as the political and philosophical debates of the era.

("Edvard Munch" was originally created for Norwegian television in 1974, then edited and re-released later as a DVD. This is the only trailer I could find and the scenes it contains are not in the DVD; the subtitles are in Greek, rather than English; but it does capture the feel of the film.)

In 1884, Kristiania was the capitol of Norway and was ruled by the middle class, the bourgeoisie, which was politically conservative and Protestant. Prostitution was legal and managed by the police, yet there were no child labor laws. Nearly one third of the industrial labor force was made up of boys and girls working as much as 11 hours a day.

Nihilism, anarchy and the works of Karl Marx were sweeping across Europe. Munch identified with a group of young bohemians, radical writers, artists and students, who believed in free love and the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. They also believed that all evil could be traced to Christianity.

In answer to Christianity's 10 commandments, Munch's Bohemian group published nine of their own. Among them were: to never borrow less than 5 kroner; to never wear celluloid cuffs; to never fail to make a scandal in the Kristiania Theater; to never regret; to sever all family bonds; and to take one's own life.

Edvard Munch, Fourth version of the painting The Sick Child, 1907

Much of the film focuses on Munch's work "The Sick Child," a painting about the death of his sister. "Illness, insanity, and death were the black angels that kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life," Munch would later recall. The break-through painting came from the deep soul-searching of this period of his life and is often sited as the first Expressionist painting. The painting was strongly attacked by both the press and the public.

This hauntingly beautiful film is long, nearly three hours, but captivating. It deftly avoids the usual pitfalls and stereotypes of depicting an artist's motivation, soul searching, life and work. It ends too abruptly, however, and gives no hint of Munch's long career and life to come.

Click here to buy Edvard Munch from Barnes & Noble

Lisa Adams: Vicissitudes of Circumstance

The timing of the release of Zero+ Publishing's monograph, Lisa Adams: Vicissitudes of Circumstance, could not have been better for us. The book arrived the same week as the opening of Offramp Gallery's Lisa Adams: Born this Way which runs at the gallery through October 9, 2011.

The beautiful hardcover book contains 30 color plates of Adams' oil paintings along with an introduction by Los Angeles writer Ezrha Jean Black and an essay by theatre and art critic James Scarborough.

Click here for more information and/or to order the book.

MFA Debate Video

The post I did on the debate I participated in last summer MFA: Is it Necessary? has by far gotten the most hits and re-posts of anything I have written to date. But the post only gives my side (con) of the debate. So, as promised, here is the Artillery Magazine video of the entire debate. My esteemed opponent is art collector, Marlene Picard. (She gets a real zinger in on me in her first rebuttal. Touché, Marlene!)

Click here for more Artillery Magazine videos and debates.

Upcoming Events at Offramp Gallery

September 11 - October 9, 2011

October 2:
Panel Discussion: Sunday, October 2, 3pm
Sincerely Whose? Authenticity, Irony and Uncertainty in Contemporary Art

October 9:
Closing Reception for
Lisa Adams: Born This Way, 2-5pm
Book Signing for Lisa Adams's Monograph: Vicissitude of Circumstance, 2-3pm
Artist's Talk by Lisa Adams, 3pm

October 10-22:
Closed for installation

October 23:
Opening Reception for Susan Sironi:
New ABCs: Altered Books & Collages, 2-5pm

October 30:
Reading and book signing: Author Hunter Drohojowska-Philp's Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s, 3pm

November 20:
Closing Reception for Susan Sironi:
New ABCs: Altered Books & Collages, 2-5pm
Artist's Talk by Susan Sironi, 3pm

November 21 - December 3:
Closed for installation

December 4-11: ArtZone 2011
Opening Reception: Sunday, December 4, 2-5pm
Closing Reception: Sunday, December 11, 2-5pm


  1. Nice to see the debate video, but it seems to me that it was a wasted opportunity, based as it was on an ill-chosen debate topic. It is obvious that an MFA isn't "necessary"--there is no jail term for practicing art without a license, and we don't have to look far to find excellent and successful artists who do not have that credential. The real questions are how valuable the MFA is, and to whom, for what end. Also worth discussing is the issue you seemed to want to get to, about the relevance (or not) of critical discourse to art (though I am at a loss to understand your opposition of "dialogue" and "content.") Plus, there's the entirely non-trivial issue of the effect of student debt on an artist's career. Also, it seemed a bit odd that your debate opponent wasn't an artist with an MFA or someone affiliated with an MFA program. In other words, the debate organizers need to raise their game.

    I like your statistics, Jane, though I think they need further analysis. Specifically: a breakdown by MFA/BFA or BA in art/other degree/no degree. Then, a breakdown by age: I'm guessing there will be fewer MFA's among people schooled before the 70s or 80s, when MFA programs exploded. Also, there may be distinctions based on the artist's country of origin. Then, most importantly, you need to look at the percentage of all practicing artists who hold MFAs. If it turns out that, say, 3% of people calling themselves artists hold an MFA, and 45% of those in major museum collections (or whatever the benchmark) have MFA's, that would seem a very strong argument in favor of the degree. Likewise, if it turned out that 45% of all practitioners have an MFA, that would suggest the degree has no effect on success.

  2. Jane, well done. But I would have liked to see more discussion of the 600 lb gorilla out there: is the MFA 'mafia' exerting an overly heavy influence on the art of our times? Is there a sort of self-referential, post-post-modern set of tropes that now define what art can be shown in institutions, which artists pass the sniff test and get grants, which subjects and modes of expression are acceptable? I feel that professors and administrators within MFA-land have had an outsized and not altogether salutary influence on contemporary art -- this needs to be understood, debated, debunked, congratulated etc. but not simply accepted.

  3. personaly, i believe that the scream is a recap of edvard munches' emotinal childhood backstory and it is probably a scene of edvards face when his mother died.