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Case-study in Creativity with VMFA’s Jasper Johns and Edvard Munch Exhibition

img_7631During a media tour of the VMFA galleries to view Jasper Johns and Edvard Munch: Love, Loss, and the Cycle of Life, our docent was none other than the man who conceived and organized the exhibition, John B. Ravenal.

Former curator of Sydney and Frances Lewis’ modern and contemporary art at VMFA, Ravenal is now the executive director of deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. As Ravenal spoke eloquently of the similarities between contemporary American artist Jasper Johns’ cross-hatch motif and the pattern on the bedspread in Norwegian Expressionist Edvard Munch’s “Self-Portrait Between the Clock and the Bed,” it immediately occurred to me that this new exhibition would require more time, if not a few visits to VMFA, to digest thoroughly. Not a problem for my family, as a trip to this Richmond treasure is a long-established Christmas Eve tradition, so we’ll be back soon enough. I also found myself looking forward to the looks on my teenage art lovers’ faces when img_7630they see Johns’ “Handprint,” another example of a shared theme from the artists, and one that had me recalling my daughters’ preschool art projects.

The exhibition assembles more than 120 paintings, drawings, and prints in once-in-a-lifetime combinations to trace the route Johns traveled in relation to Munch’s work. Organized by VMFA in partnership with the Munch Museum in Oslo, this will be the first time in twenty years that all four of Johns’ “Seasons” paintings and all three of his “Between the Clock and the Bed” paintings will be displayed together in the United States. It is the only time the latter three paintings will be exhibited alongside their inspiration, Munch’s “Self-Portrait Between the Clock and the Bed,” as well as the actual bedspread from Munch’s home.

img_7634In a groundbreaking exploration of the connection between these two masters, Ravenal calls the exhibition a “case study in creativity.” He further explains that the exhibition offers a detailed understanding of when and how the Norwegian expressionist art of Munch entered into the American modernist art of Johns.

As I walked through Jasper Johns and Edvard Munch: Love, Loss, and the Cycle of Life, I spent a lot more time than usual reading to understand the connections between the two artists and the themes and techniques they had in common. This exhibition is multi-layered, but ultimately, that just means the experience can be enjoyed by your entire family. For this one, I recommend checking out the streaming audio tour online at home, or using your own mobile device and VMFA’s free wi-fi to stream the audio tour in the galleries.

img_7647 img_7648 img_7651Also, to avoid being rushed through the galleries, you may not want to tell your children that there is a very cool interactive art lounge at the end of the exhibition. Here, the whole family can express themselves and work on their own “case study for creativity.” And your older kids can continue to make fun of you for that one time you said Edvard “Munch” like “lunch” – instead of “monk.”

Before you go, I recommend investigating VMFA’s very affordable family membership: enjoy free tickets and previews for special exhibitions (like this one); free parking in the convenient VMFA parking deck; a 10 percent discount in the gift shop and restaurants; and discounted rates on classes, programs, and other ticketed events.

Experience Jasper Johns and Edvard Munch at VMFA through February 20, 2017

This ticketed exhibit is free for VMFA members, kids 6 and under, and active-duty military personnel and their immediate families. $15 for adults; $12 for seniors 65+; $10 for students with ID, and youth, 7 to 17. Reserve you tickets at VMFA.


Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.

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