The Scream


by cheri block

I visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York City last Friday with the express purpose of seeing Edvard Munch’s famous pastel, The Scream. IMG_3074This piece of art, drawn in 1895, resides in a private collection.

Until my visit, I thought that the wavy figure holding his head and covering his ears was Munch’s symbol of existential terror.

Instead, I learned that the scream is coming from Nature, symbolized by the green, blue, and orange curves which undulate, like the man’s curvy body in the foreground, in contrast to the symbols of humanity and its constraints, which Munch represents by the straight-lined bridge, railing, and background figures.

Little did I know that Munch’s message would be played out in the MoMa cafeteria an hour later, as I attempted to munch my lunch.

And yet, upon reflection, it seems wholly appropriate to me that one of the most contemporary and bizarre conversations I have ever been forced to eavesdrop occurred at MoMa, during what I had  anticipated would be a solitary lunch, taken after a thoughtful morning stroll among paintings and objects that scream at the traditional artistic expression.

Perhaps it was the  ten or more copies of Andy Warhol’s Chairman Mao shown in complementary colors and hung on the wall every several feet in a metallic room so crowded and loud that the pounding in my head eclipsed it all and influenced my mouth to say “Sure,” when a rail-thin hostess wondered, “Will this seat work?”

Each table was thin and long. Modern curvy chairs without arms, constructed of wood and metal and ergonomically approved, faced their tables like dance partners. At each table were ten chairs on one side and ten on the other, providing the 20 diners with the same type of closeness race horses must experience in a starting gate. Multiply this table by 15 or 20, add the chefs’ open-faced kitchen with fire and cool servers with ice.

Not listening to Erica and Abigail’s conversation was impossible. Really.

What was surprising was that they were not concerned about me, sitting alone with no face opposite, no eyes blinking, no tongue wagging, no nodding. Ahhh, I duly note: I am in New York City where psychiatrists out number the rats on the docks.

Erica (age 50, maybe): So, my daughter, from whom I am estranged, showed up at my door last week with a ring of mine that she says she stole 20 years ago.

Abby (age 55, definitely): Did you recognize the ring?

Erica:No, but I took a picture of it on my iPhone and showed it to my boyfriend Mitch, who identified it as an aquamarine. Did I tell you that we have sold everything in our apartment but the microwave, because you know, you need a microwave, because we are moving to Sri Lanka at the end of the month?

Abby: What an adventure!

Erica: Yes, but Mitch’s daughter, whom, ironically, he is estranged from, has decided that she will visit us only two weeks after we arrive. Can you believe the little rat would do that? I’ve been online and learned that there is an elephant festival in India the same week that she says she is coming, so we are definitely leaving to see that.

Abby: What is your brother up to?

Erica: Well, all I can say is that he left New York City as a communist to take an art job in Paris and has done so well, he is now a Republican and voted, if you can believe it, for Romney!!!

Abby: Whaaat? How is that possible?

Erica: And my other brother, who celebrated his 50th birthday in Berlin, is totally distraught because his only daughter is converting to Judaism.

Abby: No. This takes the cake.How Jewish is she? Very Jewish?

Erica: Well, at Thanksgiving this year, she brought her own food!

Abby: Yeah. Really? Wow.

I tried not to listen but as the minutes ticked by, I wished I had ordered wine instead of coffee. Maybe Abby was Erica’s therapist.

Erica then went on to outline how she will game the system by lying so she can collect unemployment after working at her job for only eleven months. So munch for a generous government. She is closing down her Facebook page, so no one will know she’s left for Sri Lanka.

It all was so modern. So empty of substance. So screaming vacuous.

I longed to be in Nature where the peacefulness of hundreds of wild turkeys stamping the lawn to smitherines and mating faster than lab mice, awakens me each  morning.

To do this, I left the Abby and Erica still sharing nothing but sharing everything in the MoMa Cafeteria.

Fortunately, a new exhibit from Germany had just arrived and the installation had been completed.

IMG_3078This is Hazelnut pollen. Seriously.

About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in People, Writing and Teaching and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to The Scream

  1. says: would have loved to be a fly on the wall for that conversation! And you didn’t murmur a word about the collecting of unemployment from a distance shore after the comments about being Jewish, a republican or estrangement? lol. so funny

    Cindy Block Usedom Cindy and Partners

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  2. Rosemary says:

    Oh, that was painful to read…those vacuous women would make me run for the hills, too!
    I steer clear of the Museum of Modern Art…I always walk out of there shell-shocked, devoid. Never mind that the food in the cafeteria is usually damn good…
    I am going to see Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, and more…at the De Young next week, with Jen and family…our lunch conversation will only be about the art, as it is a lifelong passion of my parents and Jen. I definiely prefer the perfect brush strokes and magnificent works of the masters there. And I would unhesitatingly choose a hill covered with dogs, deer, turkeys and olives over The Silent Scream hanging in my front hall!

    • Cheri says:

      I, too, will be visiting the DeYoung to see Vermeer’s painting.
      My wish would be a show of all of Bruegel’s works. I saw The Harvesters at the Met in NYC. Our turkey problem is getting worse. They have now eaten the lower half of my jasmine vines.

  3. W.k. kortas says:

    My God. That’s a Woody Allen short story on Thorazine.

  4. T E Stazyk says:

    You made this up didn’t you? No. You couldn’t have.

    Well told!

    • Cheri says:

      Thanks. When these women started talking, i found the nature of the conversation so funny that i immediately took out my phone, opened the Notes application and began taking dictation. There was much more That I left out.

  5. Richard says:

    We had a Munch exhibition here at Tate Modern about six months ago.

    “Illness, Insanity and Death stood by my cradle,” he said. Doubtless Abby and Erica were nearabouts, too.

    I learned that he did several versions of many of his paintings. I don’t know whether he was exploring different aspects of the same subjects or whether it was just that he knew how to cash in on a good thing.

  6. Richard says:

    Oh dear – please correct my italics.

  7. This will keep me laughing for a few days! I admire your Block restraint during the “Jewish, Republican” tirade. Funny story.

  8. I had to think whether to give “munch my lunch” a pass; then did. The subsequent dialogue was priceless.
    At a higher plane: New York = Berlin, anthropologically speaking. that just occurred to me. (for the 100th time.)

  9. Christopher says:

    I’ll remind you of that never-to-be-forgotten *art gallery scene* in “Play It Again Sam”.

    • Cheri says:

      Ahhh…yes. Yes. Thanks for posting the link. Im thinking of going back and watching the entire film.

      • Christopher says:

        Another film you might think of re-seeing (I feel sure you would have seen it first time round – in 1981) is *”My Dinner With Andre”*.

        The entire film, I’ll remind you, consists of a conversation between two old friends (one a playwright, the other a theatre director) who are dining together in a New York restaurant. Some parts of the conversation are eerily like your dialogue.

  10. imagenmots says:

    Museums and art galleries are strange places where you meet strange people. Whenever I go to one, to please my Thérèse, I feel like I’m visiting a funeral parlour.
    I guess the most interesting part was that silly conversation that you so well reported. Still it was worth a scream, even a primal one.

  11. Don says:

    Estrangement is so strange. It signals broken expectations on both sides. It only figures then that people who share the same tendency towards having expectations that can bitterly be broken would be related.

    I hope to see that De Young exhibit too. (My great great grandfather was a friend of theirs. No word on whether he was closer to the one that died of being shot, or the one that was shot but did not.)

  12. Cyberquill says:

    You’re making me sick. Homesick, that is. So you mean, in other parts of the country people do not have conversations like this?

  13. Cheri says:

    Never heard anything like this twisted self-indulgent conversation on our trip from California to Illinois… No, this is NYC rich talk. Heard another zinger of a conversation at Lusardi’s on 2nd and 76th. OMG

    And another one at The Carlyle.

    Three in one trip.

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