Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul – Royal Academy of Arts, London

I’ve been struggling for days to write this review and I don’t know why. The short answer is that it’s an impressive exhibition.

But it’s also more than that.

It leaves an indelible impression on you.

Consisting of works created almost exactly 100 years apart, I like to think Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul is really a show about womanhood.

There is something about the bluntness of Tracey Emin’s visualisations of frustrated anger that couples so well with Edvard Munch’s disquieting images of women rendered in psychedelic colours. Once you’ve seen them together, you can’t unsee their complementary relationship, like two halves of the same heart.

It’s an utterly thrilling experience!

But like Emin’s paintings, I’m going to be blunt here too. It was difficult not to think about her references to sexual abuse, pain, periods, and trauma. Great splashes of red paint, dripping blood-like brushwork, and figures in provocative positions. For the neon works, as one visitor commented, ‘she has a way with words’.

The sparing selection of Munch paintings are spot on. A wall of his watercolours offers a visual dialogue about the draughtsmanship of paint, echoed in the final room with Munch’s hatching-heavy Death of Marat. But this is just the exhibition’s sub-plot.

Munch portrays women like lost souls with no one to rely on but themselves. Absent-minded with no answers in sight, the cast of figures from different stages of life are relatable and speak deeply to our innermost insecurities.

I was struck by a painting of a crying child being comforted by her mother. Any number of reasons could have led to that image: perhaps heartbreak, her first period, or maybe just bad news? The image is haunting and unforgettable.

This exhibition isn’t rosy and beautiful; it’s depressing, emotional, and gut-wrenching.

And for that reason, it’s just perfect.

Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul runs until 1 August at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/

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