Workers Returning Home by Edvard Munch, 1913-15, Oil on canvas
I went to see the Munch exhibition at Tate Modern yesterday. The last one I went to was a Damien Hirst retrospective and, of course, the differences between the two are so marked that it makes you wonder about the broad church that is labelled ‘art’. The similarity is in the preoccupation with death. What I complained was lacking in Hirst’s work, a sort of soulful introspection, was there in spades in the Munch; in fact there was almost too much, making the experience a tough emotional one for the viewer and left me feeling claustrophobic and quite ready to dive out of the solid wooden double doors marked ‘exit – no re-entry’.
On the other side of those doors was a nice view of St Paul’s across the Thames and the obligatory exhibition shop. I just sat in a chair and watched people escaping from the clutches of Munch. Exit? No re-entry? Is heaven or hell going to end up being no more, or less, than an exhibition shop.
Anyway, of all the work, and don’t go there if you want to see a version of ‘The Scream’ because, like Macavity the Mystery Cat, It’s. Not. There. Of the whole exhibition, I was most struck by this painting; it’s not just its sheer size, over two by two metres, but the perspective of the viewer. Stand in the middle and face this painting and it feels like the crowd is lurching towards you, ready to trample you underfoot. I experienced the same later that day, walking in the shadow of St Paul’s, with city workers rushing, apparently like automatons, to the tube. Sad to say there was more humanity in the faces of Munch’s workers than the Square Mile drones. I did scream then.
At one point, in the great rushing river of commuters, a man over-reached himself and clipped the back of a woman’s shoe. Her leopard print pump catapulted itself in the air and landed, incongruous like an eel out of water, on the street. I waited for the Cinderella moment, where the man in the City’s regulation suit of armour retrieved the shoe and was transformed into a prince, but it was all dirty looks and the shoe shuffled back on. I went and drank a Princess Sparkles cocktail at The Anthologist (worth a click through for the butterflies alone) to help the situation in my mind some. It didn’t work. The City is wrong.
I see them on the streets. The junior bankers, drinking coffee at five in the afternoon, looking hunted because they are working on some deal that’s going down the pan. No hometime for them today. I see the middle-aged ones, carrying a few spare tyres, who have at least survived and I wonder which one of them is thinking of never going home again: exit – no re-entry.