by Carrie McGath
Almost exactly one year ago, I traveled to Chicago from Kalamazoo, Michigan where I was living at the time to see the Edvard Munch exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago, and at this year’s CAA I found a passionate and poetic reverie in the Munch panel at the College Art Association Conference at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago.
My travels to the Hyatt were comprised of a series of moments of being lost. I am one with little to no sense of direction, and this was confirmed in my crossing back and forth across the Chicago River looking for the Hyatt Regency where this year’s College Art Association Conference was taking place. My listless wanderings were complicated still more with the cranky Chicago morning winds. Then I finally found my feet on the grounds of the Hyatt, and upon entering, I was overwhelmed by the intensely interesting bustle one finds at such a conference. I was overhearing conversations between painters, seeing art scholars hurriedly running toward their panel, advertisements lying everywhere like candies at an after-party, and I knew there was a book fair somewhere with all those titillating freebies. I was a little surprised and delighted that the conference was such a bustle on a Friday morning in a winter-riddled Chicago.
I made my way to a panel about Edvard Munch, an artist I have always loved but knew very little about outside of the myths of sickly tragedy that surrounds him. The panel was titled, Edvard Munch at 2010: Reassessing a Century of Scholarship, Directions for the Future. Yes, an ambitious title for a panel that indeed delivered even minus a couple of the panelists who were unable to attend since they were likely snowed in somewhere.
Joan Templeton began the panel. She is Professor Emerita of English at Long Island University in Brooklyn, and her lecture, Edvard Munch, Writer and Disciple of Edgar Allen Poe, was a fascinating foray into the literary life of the painter. The symbolism Professor Templeton pointed out throughout was reminiscent not only of Poe, but of Munch’s paintings. She revealed that Munch’s literary life was at least as rich as these small to large canvases of deep, meditative emotion. The talk was poetically charged and her passion about her subjects of Poe and Munch gave the talk an intensely engaging quality that kept the room in an awestruck hush.
The second panelist, Patricia Gray Berman, who holds the title of Theodora L. & Stanley S. Feldberg Professor of Art at Wellesley College discussed Edvard Munch’s painting, Spanish Flu in her talk, Munch’s Spanish Flu as Medical Performance. In my current fascination with such performance art, I was intensely excited to hear her ambitious talk. She mentioned that 2013 will be Munch’s 150th anniversary since his birth, and my mind went briefly to the tables outside of our room brimming with adverts that looked like candies, my mind briefly turning to a future birthday celebration for Munch. Her talk discussed Munch’s self-portraits as meta-biographical, specifically his life-size painting, Spanish Flu, that is one of the few representation of the pandemic in Europe. She contended that the stamina needed to create the five-foot tall canvas of bright paints dripped and spread belies the myth that the painting was painted by an ill Munch. Even though Munch had the flu in 1919, it was likely not the Spanish flu, so this seems to be a painting of a sick man that echoes many of Munch’s paintings of sick rooms. The open mouth in the painting eerily echoes The Scream.
After her talk ended, the preeminent Munch scholar that Berman said she utilized throughout her research and paper, entered the panel. And so Reinhold Heller, a professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Art History, walked through applause up to the panel for open discussion. The audience was very much captivated by the panel and asked many questions of the panel. What began as an ambitious panel talk ended as an ambitious set of case studies by very talented Munch scholars, giving me a newfound knowledge of Edvard Munch.
So it was a good day, even though it began on a cold, wintry morning lost in Chicago. After this, I wandered and snapped photos of the bustle, the book fair, and of course of a table filled with candied advertisements that heaved with the desire of take me, take me. The after-party and the party that would continue through Saturday filled the Hyatt with a palpable passion about the arts.