Thursday, Mar. 01, 2007

The Theft of "The Scream," 2006

Perhaps no crime carried as much symbolic freight in the new millennium as the theft of Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream" from the museum bearing his name in Oslo, Norway, on Aug. 22, 2004. Munch had been a target before. Another version of "The Scream" had been stolen just before the Winter Olympics of 1994 in Lillehammer but had been recovered. This time, the theft was brazen. Armed men walked into the museum and carted off Munch's archetypal image of contemporary anxiety along with a ghostly masterwork, "Madonna." The two paintings were virtually ripped off the walls. As much as a theft of art, it was an assault on the collective psyche of the world since "The Scream," as angst-ridden as it is, had become a beloved symbol of nervousness, the communal expression of not-being-able-to-take-it-anymore. In time, culprits were brought to ground and sent to prison. As people, they seem not to be interesting so much as unforgivable. One theory is that the entire caper was planned to distract police resources from the investigation of a bank robbery and fatal shooting of a guard. In any case, the thieves did not care for the masterpieces they so roughtly stole. "The Scream," which was painted on cardboard not canvas, has suffered irreparable water damage and flaking due to exposure to extremes of temperature. "Madonna" too had a tear on its surface and had to be restored.

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