I stand in the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, my pupils dilating as I catch sight of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. I have seen this painting so many times through pop culture, but nothing has prepared me for seeing it in real life. It’s really here, right in front of me. Well, at least one version of it (1910 tempera and oil version). I become lost in its world, feeling the terrors the person in the painting is feeling.
The Scream was one of the many paintings exhibited at the Munch: A Retrospective exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. The exhibition celebrates the life of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Being in Tokyo at the time of this exhibition, I made sure I explored the show. Little did I know I would find myself lost in the world of his art while there. I found myself on a journey through loneliness, love, fear and trauma.
With language barriers, I was left to interpret Munch’s works in my own way. As with many things I have previously experienced, my interpretations relate back to pop culture. The Kiss (1897) was one example of this. The way the couple were morphing together, it was much like the one R.J. McReady and Dr. Blair found at the Norwegian base in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). I later found out this painting was in fact depicting how two people unify in love.
Excluding The Scream, the paintings that made the most impact on me were Two Human Beings, The Lonely Ones (1933-35), and The Sun (1916). My interpretation of Two Human Beings, The Lonely Ones was how lost these two people were in a strange new world. I thought of them being the only two humans on an alien planet or the last two on Earth. The Sun stood like a shining beacon at the dawn of a new world, one unfamiliar to the one we live in. These two paintings combined together drew me into a world where the everyday as we know it is gone. I began connecting them to Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, a book I’d recently read. I imagined these two people staring out over a world with a bright beacon rising over the horizon and children dancing through the forests that cover the ruins of once great cities.
This exhibition had me one more surprise for me, in the form of Pokémon. Made specifically for this event, there were folders, postcards and even TCG cards where The Scream was redone using Pokémon as souvenirs from the exhibition. These stood out to me as much as the visuals of the paintings themselves. Unlike most of Munch’s artworks, these were familiar to me. The way they were made though, not only was adorable but uncanny. These souvenirs were unique to the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.
Stepping back into the world, which was still unfamiliar to me, I smile. The exhibition was worth the 1600 yen (AUD$18) entry fee. Munch’s paintings spoke to both my creative side and allowed me to understand him better as an artist, despite the language barriers. I feel this was aided more due to experiencing it in Japanese rather than its original Norwegian. It became one of the highlights of my journey and I recommend to anyone who is going to Japan to check out a major exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.
Words by Cameron Lowe
Cameron Lowe is a horror and sci-fi writer, editor and student. He’s had fiction and articles featured in Speakeasy Zine and Empire Times. He loves to read, play video games, and drink green tea. He’s one of the 2018 editors at Empire Times. He tweets at @cloweshadowking.