Screaming Artworks That Use the Human Howl as Their Focus


We’re not sure how Edvard Munch would feel about his tortured Expressionist painting The Scream being used to sell tote bags, umbrellas, and greeting cards. But the Norwegian painter might get a kick out of knowing that his famous creation was stolen twice — and was luckily recaptured. The painting of an agonized figure set against a hellish landscape — which Munch technically titled Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature) — has been parodied and imitated so much, the mere expression (à la Home Alone) is instantly recognizable. Nobody depicts a blood-curdling howl quite like Munch, but other artists have used the scream as a focus of their work in fascinating ways.

Homage to Edvard Munch and All My Dead Children, by Tracy Emin

From White Cube gallery in London:

Tracey Emin has said in interviews and in her own writing that The Scream by Edvard Munch is her favorite historical painting. In 1998, she made a short film entitled Homage to Edvard Munch and All My Dead Children set on a wooden jetty at the edge of the Oslo Fjord, the same location that Munch used as background for his iconic figure. In Emin’s film, we are first shown the artist naked and curled in a foetal position, from behind; then the camera moves to the fjord’s resplendent water, and we hear Emin scream, the sharp sound filling the screen for almost a minute. Somehow Emin’s version of Munch’s universal image of anguish is more horrifying than the original picture. Munch formulated that image within an Expressionist practice, and a highly personal one at that. But the painting is also objective. Mostly it is assumed that the figure screaming on the jetty is a man, but when I consult a lithograph of the painting made in 1895, I am no longer so sure. It might be a woman. This being unclear, the figure must be Everyman (Everywoman). Munch employed a style that allows the screaming person to be impersonal and general, that is, symbolistic. By contrast, Emin’s adaptation of the painting is extremely realistic.

Voice Piece for Soprano & Wish Tree at MoMA, Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono reprised her 1961 performance/installation Voice Piece for Soprano in 2010, asking visitors at MoMA to use a microphone in the museum’s atrium and follow the artist’s instructions posted on the wall: “Scream 1. against the wind; 2. against the wall; 3. against the sky.”

Screaming Pope series, by Francis Bacon

Bacon’s obsession with the scream was inspired by medical texts, Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent The Battleship Potemkin, the works of Matthias Grünewald, and other sources. Phaidon sheds another light on the Screaming Pope series that Bacon completed in the 1950s:

Bacon’s obsessive reworking of the papal theme suggests that it may have possessed further significance and perhaps psychological charge for the artist in relation to his sexuality. It has been remarked that the Pope in official garb is in a sense the ultimate drag queen, or less literally that depictions of the Holy Father, known in Italy as ‘il Papa’, may encapsulate Bacon’s traumatic feelings about his own father. The latter was a conventional, inflexible military man to whom the teenage Bacon had felt sexually attracted, as he recalled many years later, but who brutally admonished and rejected him when he discovered his son’s homosexual inclinations. Such speculations about the possible ‘subconscious’ content of the pope pictures involve perhaps a rather crude application of the methods of Freudian psychoanalysis. Once again it is neither altogether possible nor helpful to pin Bacon down.

More on South Korean artist Kim Boem’s Yellow Scream from Walker Art (excerpt above):

After discussing his assembled materials–a primed canvas, oil paint mixed with turpentine, a size-3 flat hog-bristle brush–the video’s instructor begins: “The technique to this painting is to incorporate the sound of screams into the brush strokes.” Dressed in a pressed gray dress shirt and pleated pants, he explains to the camera, “A brush stroke done with screaming is very different from a normal one. … The effect of the screams is recorded with the brush strokes.” He then dips his brush in a dab of lemon yellow paint, leans into the canvas, and lets out an anguished wail as he makes his first stroke: “Aaaaaaaaagh!” Characteristic of the Seoul-based artist Kim Beom’s humor, the 31-minute video Yellow Scream (2012)–recently acquired by the Walker Art Center and shown for a limited time in its entirety on the Walker Channel–takes its inspiration from instructional television programs. The piece, the artist states, “is like the typical painting lessons of Bob Ross. What I was feeling in the theme of this video is the existential nature of contemporary art (and culture) as well as of artists. There are dynamics of many elements such as absurdity, the bizarre, intelligence, form, seriousness, and creativity.” In that vein, the instructor, played by an actor, gives a deadpan course on technique, from priming canvases to color theory, while occasionally advising about the Zen-like quality of painting, from visualizing a balanced composition to controlling breath: “Now relax and try to feel your breathing, because screaming is part of breathing.” He then demonstrates his method, treating different types of utterances as if they’re artistic media or hues of paint. His brush strokes are variously accompanied by “a long scream that sounds like when you’re hurt, as if someone yanked your arm behind you or pulled you by the hair”; “a scream induced by psychological pain”; and “a more pained, wronged, and regretful scream.” Nearing the painting’s completion, he advises, “Let’s mix a bit of permanent green and add some refreshing hope and pleasure to the screams of joy.” The final work, he says, achieves a symphonic melding of color and emotion–a “clear, resonating chorus” of yellow.

Clown Torture, by Bruce Nauman

The Art Institute of Chicago discusses Bruce Nauman’s terrifying video installation:

Nauman returned to video in 1985 with renewed enthusiasm. Clown Torture, one of the artist’s most spectacular achievements to date, marked a major new direction and prefigured his recent, more complex environments involving monitors, projections, and other sculptural elements. Installed in an enclosed, darkened space, Clown Torture consists of two rectangular pedestals, each supporting two pairs of stacked color monitors (one turned upside down, one turned on its side); two large, color-video projections on facing walls; and sound from all six video displays. The monitors play four narrative sequences in perpetual loops, each chronicling an absurd misadventure of a clown, who is played to brilliant effect by the actor Walter Stevens. According to the artist, distinctions may be made among the clown protagonists; one is the “Emmett Kelly dumb clown; one is the old French Baroque clown; one is a sort of traditional polka-dot, red-haired, oversized show clown; and one is a jester.” In “No, No, No, No (Walter),” the clown incessantly screams “No!” while jumping, kicking, or lying down; in “Clown with Goldfish,” he struggles to balance a fish bowl on the ceiling with the handle of a broom; in “Clown with Water Bucket,” he repeatedly opens a door that is booby-trapped with a bucket of water, which falls on his head; and finally, in “Pete and Repeat,” he succumbs to the terror of a seemingly inescapable nursery rhyme: “Pete and Repeat are sitting on a fence. Pete falls off. Who’s left? Repeat.” Of his work, Nauman has said, “From the beginning I was trying to see if I could make art that . . . was just there all at once. Like getting hit in the face with a baseball bat. Or better, like getting hit in the back of the head. You never see it coming; it just knocks you down. . . . The kind of intensity that doesn’t give you any trace of whether you’re going to like it or not.

“Walk-in Vagina,” by Reshma Chhiba

From AFP: “A walk-in vagina has been installed at Johannesburg’s old women’s jail, to celebrate women’s month. Visitors are invited to enter the art work to a soundtrack of screaming and laughter, which represents the Hindu Goddess Kali.”

Painful Cake, by Makode Linde

“When artist Makode Linde dressed up as a pastry depicting a caricatured African woman, he was doing more than just embarrassing Sweden’s cultural minister,” wrote The Atlantic about the artist’s provocative performance during World Art Day at Stockholm’s Moderna Muséet. They continue:

You are supposed to be shocked by the photos of the cake, baked in the shape of a contorted, female, black body. You are meant to be appalled by the laughing crowd of white Swedes, egging on Swedish Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn-Liljeroth as she cuts a slice from the cake’s crotch. And you are absolutely meant to be horrified by the living human face, painted in Golliwogg blackface style, looking back at the chuckling crowd, and screaming in mock pain as the cake is cut. (The face belongs to male artist Makode Linde, who designed the cake.) The scene is disturbing, awkward, repulsive, even painful, and that’s precisely the point. If you see that, then you’re in on it.

Hanging in the Woods, by Hilde Krohn Huse

Hanging in the Woods seems like an ordinary video experiment. But the film was born from an accident Huse had. The London-based artist went to the forest in her native village Aukra in Norway to film herself hanging naked from a rope in a tree. She soon realized she was unable to free herself. During the struggle, her binds tightened, and she screamed for help.