COVID-19: When you want to scream, see The Scream

Every time the world has faced a major crisis in the past century its eyes have turned towards the most famous painting by Scandinavia’s most famous artist.  Edward Munch´s “The Scream” has, since it was unveiled in 1893, become so iconic that the artist himself has become synonymous with melancholy and despair.

“’The Scream’ has been used to symbolize global crises like World War I, the Cold War, Brexit and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Stein Olav Henrichsen, director of the Munch Museum in an interview with UNRIC.

Edvard Munch, ”Skrik”, 1910. FOTO: Munchmuseet
Edvard Munch, ”Skrik”, 1910. FOTO: Munchmuseet

The Munch Museum which houses “the Scream” is one of Oslo´s biggest tourist attraction. Like most museums, theatres, cinemas, concert halls and other cultural venues, the Munch Museum has had to close its doors due to the COVID-19-pandemic. The sudden lack of income has plunged many into uncertainty and immediate financial loss. UNESCO fears that this sudden standstill may have long-term consequences for the world’s cultural institutions.

“Now, more than ever, people need culture,” says Ernesto Ottone, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, “Culture makes us resilient. It gives us hope. It reminds us that we are not alone.”

Edvard Munch, ”Förtvivlan”, 1894. FOTO: Munchmuseet
Edvard Munch, ”Förtvivlan”, 1894. FOTO: Munchmuseet

Like many other museums, theatres and opera stages, the Munch Museum in Oslo has turned to the internet to connect with their audience during the pandemic.

“These are special times, and many are currently living in challenging situations. It has been important for us to show Edvard Munch’s art in new ways, which hopefully may provide the audience with good and positive experiences in a difficult time,” says director Henrichsen.

Edvard Munch, ”Unga människor på stranden”, 1904. FOTO: Munchmuseet
Edvard Munch, ”Unga människor på stranden”, 1904. FOTO: Munchmuseet

Digital solutions

As a matter of fact, the museum chose to close its doors on 11 March 2020, the day before the Norwegian authorities introduced their strict measures to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

“As a result, we transferred a lot of the art experiences over to the museum’s digital platforms to make them available for a wide audience,” says Henrichsen, “We introduced concepts like the live stream “We Bring Munch to You” – a series of digital tours of the exhibit where we share knowledge about different parts of Edvard Munch’s artistic career and his most celebrated works.”


The Munch Museum has digitized its entire collection. On the museum’s website, you may find all of Edvard Munch’s artwork, drawings, letters and correspondence. On its social media platforms, you may join the museum’s digital tours and ask the curators questions. According to Henrichsen, the initiative has been a great success.

“A huge number of people have joined our live tours. One of our previous live streams was joined by 300 000 people,” he says, “It is particularly inspiring for us to read the comment section where we receive greetings and questions from all over the world. The format has been a great success, and something we will continue doing in the future.”


The human experience

But the curators at the Munch museum would like you to know that Munch’s work is far more diverse than the despair showed in “The Scream”. He was a figurative painter but never interested in portraying his subjects as they appeared.

Through his career, which spanned six decades and over 1000 paintings, he experimented with many different art styles but ended up creating a visual style that was all his own. By using his own emotions and memories, he tried to capture the universal human experience from puberty to the grave.

Love, despair, passion, loneliness, joy and sorrow are all present in Munch’s works and were motifs he would return to, again and again, throughout his life.

Edvard Munch, ”Solen”, 1912. FOTO: Munchmuseet
Edvard Munch, ”Solen”, 1912. FOTO: Munchmuseet

Munch considered himself as much a writer as an artist and used his journals to plan his paintings. In one of his journals he wrote his art manifesto:

“I have through my art attempted to understand life and its meaning. My aim has also been to help others understand life.”

Henrichsen believes it may be useful, in a time of crisis, to turn to art and to Munch in particular:

“Edvard Munch preoccupied himself with both the light and dark side of human life and all the challenges we face. Through the art of Munch, we may learn more about ourselves and our relations with others. In trying times, art may help us gain a better understanding of the situations we face.”

Henrichsen says art lovers will soon be able to experience the digital exhibition “The Experimental Self” from the comfort of their own homes, and he hopes to welcome people to the new Munch Museum in Bjørvika later this year.

Due to the coronavirus, many other Nordic cultural institutions have created alternative ways to reach their audience:


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