The Royal Academy of Arts plans to go ahead with an exhibition bringing together for the first time the work of the British artist Tracey Emin RA (b.1963) and the Norwegian Expressionist Edvard Munch (1863-1944), two artists born 100 years apart. Long fascinated and inspired by Edvard Munch’s work, Tracey Emin will choose a selection of his masterpieces to accompany her own works. The exhibition COVID willing will be one of the last in a disrupted 2020 schedule of shows at the institution.
The exhibition will feature around 25 works by Emin, including paintings, some of which will be on display for the first time, as well as neons and sculpture. These have been chosen by Emin to sit alongside a carefully considered selection of 19 oil paintings and watercolours by Munch, drawn from the rich collection and archives of the Munch Museet in Oslo, Norway. The exhibition will interweave the works of both artists across all three galleries, demonstrating that Emin and Munch, though separated by time and history, explore the same emotional landscape in their works with remarkable intensity.
In her formative years as an artist, Emin was drawn to the expressionism of paintings by both Edvard Munch and Egon Schiele, their concerns in exploring the complex human condition and tortured psyche echoing many of her own burgeoning tendencies. In particular, Munch’s confrontation and exploration of emotions in his work had an enduring appeal to Emin, who saw him as ‘a friend in art’, and as early as 1982 was directly referencing the artist in her work.
The Loneliness of the Soul will focus on themes of grief, loss and longing. Emin has focused on a group of Munch’s works which explore his complex relationship with the female sex. Early tragic events, including the death of his mother when he was only five years old, followed a few years later by his beloved sister. Then a series of doomed love affairs, all contributed to this uneasy connection. The works on display highlight his fascination with the depiction of women, their emotional states and the process of ageing.
This selection will include well-known works such as The Death of Marat, 1907 (Munch Museet, Oslo). Referencing the subject of Jacques-Louis David’s famous painting of 1793 which bears the same title, Munch may have been considering his legacy in addition to exploring traditional complex attitudes towards women. The revolutionary Marat was murdered by Charlotte Corday, who feared he would incite a civil war in France. History presents Marat as a hero and Corday as a traitor. The subject and history’s reading of it had resonance for Munch who had just undergone a painful breakup with a woman he had been engaged to for several years, a trauma that was to haunt him throughout his life, and of which many expressions can be detected in his work.
This sense of personal disclosure and intimate exploration of the body as a battleground is equally recognisable in works by Emin, for example in the deeply expressionistic It – didn’t stop – I didn’t stop, 2019. Like Munch, Emin is also unafraid to examine the impact of events in her own life through her work. Paintings such as You were here like the ground underneath my feet and Because you left, both 2016, (Private collections), explore the complex emotions regarding loss and longing. Indeed, Emin’s paintings have long been a compellingly powerful expression of her inner life and psychological state.
The exhibition is organised with the Munch Museet, Oslo and in close collaboration with Tracey Emin. Kari Brandtzæg curates it at the Munch Museet and Edith Devaney at the Royal Academy of Arts. Following on from the Royal Academy, the exhibition will open in the Munch Museet’s new building in Spring 2021.
Top Photo: Detail Tracey Emin, It – didnt stop – I didnt stop, 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 152 x 183.5 x 3.7 cm. Xavier Hufkens © Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2020
Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul -The Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries Royal Academy of Arts 15 November 2020 – 28 February 2021