Getting Lost in the Art of Edvard Munch in Tokyo

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.

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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.

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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

Meet-the-Team-Cameron2
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.

Edo Style: The Art of Japan (OzAsia Festival 2018)

 

1615, Tokugawa Ieyasu reduced Osaka Castle to ruins. Its destruction brought an end to the age of war, giving Ieyasu complete control of the Japanese archipelago. In its place was the era of ‘peace’, officially known as the Edo period. Named from the capital Edo (present-day Tokyo), the Edo period lasted until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The era was captured through the eyes and hands of its artists. The exhibition, as part of the 2018 OzAsia Festival, will be at the David Roche Foundation until December 1.

As you walk into the first room you are immediately transported back to the Edo period. To your right is a hanging scroll of Enma, the King of Hell, glaring at a family through his crystal mirror. To your left are woodblock paintings of different people and scenes, one being The Courtesan Akashi of the Tamaya.

On the far side of the room are panels showing a view of Edo Period Kyoto. It shows sights that are still popular today like Nijo Castle and the Imperial Palace. Along the walls to the right of the panels are period artefacts, including a collection of Buddhist figurines which has been part of the Japanese religious culture for centuries. The centre has a period pot and an 18th-century Illustrated Guide behind Foreign Textiles by Naniwa Shorin Publishers, also hidden behind glass.

Stepping into the second room there is a samurai suit that catches your attention. It stands in the centre of the room, tall, brave, and honourable as if possessed by the spirit of its original wearer. However, the way of the samurai in the Edo period lost its relevance, reducing them to the roles of patrolmen.

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The samurai suit isn’t the only thing in the room, there is an array of art and artefacts throughout. On the left, you come across a picnic set and can’t help wonder what food they ate and where they had it. Were they looking over at Mount Fuji or sitting in front of the Imperial Palace? You can only imagine. Your eyes shoot towards the katana (long sword) and a wakizashi (short sword) in the nearby display case. You wonder what it’ll feel like to grasp them in your hand and what it will be like to use one. Then you think of what it’d be like to wear a samurai suit while wielding it. Would it be easy to use or difficult?

Moving on to the right-hand side of the room you find a Nō (musical drama) costume and more panels. These panels depict battle scenes from the 14th-century Japanese military epic The Tales of Heike. The battle scenes are those of Heike’s clan’s stronghold fall at Ichinotani (present-day Kobe). Examining it you begin to hear the clanging of the katanas, the beating of horse hooves, and the warrior cries.

There is another panel in the third room, this one of the Seto Inland Sea, an important maritime region during the Edo period. The route connected the islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu and was known for its treacherous travels. It was also the route taken to bring imported goods from Nagasaki to Osaka, which would then travel overland to Kyoto and Tokyo. Today it has largely now been replaced by road and rail systems.

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Another woodblock painting on the right catches your interest, ‘Fine Wind, Clear Weather’, which depicts a snowless peak of Mount Fuji. It’s one of the few paintings from the 36 Views of Mount Fuji series on display. Moving to the left of the room you see a panel from the port at Nagasaki. Here you see these strange looking people are talking with the locals of the city. There is a black carrack on the left panel, a common Portuguese ship, sitting in the harbour. It makes you wonder what the people of the era would’ve thought, seeing these foreigners appearing in a strange looking boat. It would be intriguing, to meet a person from a big wide world you are forbidden to go out and see.

In the small final room there is a painting depicting westerners conversing and walking among the locals once again in Nagasaki. Its style allows you to see how the Western influences brought the end of the Edo period. Before stepping out you notice a book telling the story of the Japanese landscape. The eighteenth-century publication shows both the writer and illustrator’s amazement of a new world which until then they were forbidden to see.

Edo Style: The Art of Japan is the place to visit if you who have an interest in either Japanese art, culture or history, or all three together. You will step back in time to an age of peace, intrigue, and isolation from the outside world. The exhibition is a historical retelling of both Japan’s war-ridden tribal past and how it became an imperial power to challenge the likes of the European empires in the 20th century.

 


Words and photography by Cameron Lowe.

Meet-the-Team-Cameron2

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.