The pop culture bump of ‘The Scream’

Christopher Werth May 2, 2012

David Brancaccio: Today the painting known far and wide as The Scream goes on auction at Sotheby’s in New York. There are several versions of Edvard Munch’s piece but the only one to hit the open market.

And it’s expected to fetch something like $80 million dollars, as Christopher Werth reports.

Christopher Werth: When Munch painted “The Scream” in 1895, it shocked the art world. The central figure in the painting covers its ears and appears to scream under a blood red sky.

David Norman of Sotheby’s says the picture presaged the turmoil of the 20th century.

David Norman: It is a universal image of anxiety, suffering, the response to the modern age.

Since then, “The Scream” has become an icon of pop culture: from T-shirts and inflatable dolls, to Macaulay Culkin impersonating the painting in “Home Alone.” It’s even found its way on to “The Simpsons” and versions of the picture with a shrieking Homer Simpson.

Godfrey Barker, an expert on the art market, says all those knocks offs have actually made the painting a lot more valuable.

Godfrey Barker: Fame unquestionably drives up prices. That’s assisted by Homer Simpson.

“The Scream” could even break $106.5 million, a record for a work of art at auction.

But its monetary value may be less important than its enduring value as social commentary. Louisa Buck is a critic with the Art Newspaper.

Louisa Buck: We live in troubled times. We have the financial crisis, which shudders on, and I think Munch’s “Scream” really expresses that.

Even then, it’s hard to look at “The Scream,” without hearing Homer.

Homer Simpson: D’oh!

I’m Christopher Werth for Marketplace.

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