Modern horrors

August 24, 2004

JUST AS THE ICONIC smile of Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" is associated with a certain sense of enigma, the expression of anguish vividly portrayed in Edvard Munch's "The Scream" inevitably is linked to the inner angst so pervasive in modern life. Painted in 1893 by the Norwegian recluse, the works of art - there are actually four versions - came to symbolize the psychological horrors of the 20th century.

The theft of one version of "The Scream" over the weekend from the Munch Museum in Oslo - the second time one of the series was stolen in the last decade - thus resonates far beyond the painting's estimated value of approximately $100 million. Even this haunting image of a howling soul on a bridge - even our nightmares - aren't safe!

Nor were they protected. The theft itself was brilliant or comic: The painting - and another Munch masterpiece - were taken in broad daylight from a crowded museum by thieves who literally strolled in, clipped wires holding them to the wall without triggering alarms and walked out, stashing the art in the rear of a stolen station wagon as their photo was taken by a passer-by. Police showed up 15 minutes after it began.

In a very small and fortunately nonfatal way, the Munch Museum's lack of security - even after "The Scream" had been stolen from Norway's National Gallery in 1994 - eerily mirrored for the art world aspects of 9/11. Asked the shocked Oslo detective who led the recovery of the first stolen "Scream": "Hasn't the city of Oslo learned anything about security in 10 years?"

We, of course, hope that this theft ends the same way as the last time, with the return of the paintings undamaged. But in the meantime, their theft is enough to make us, well, want to walk out on a bridge and scream.

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