Art

Turns Out Social Distancing Also Applies to Works of Art

Troubling news about the condition of "The Scream"

Detail of "The Scream"
"The Scream" has been damaged by close proximity to humans.
Edvard Munch
By Tobias Carroll / May 19, 2020 7:00 am

As museums and other cultural institutions gradually re-open to the public, patrons will likely be advised to maintain social distancing protocols and stay six feet from one another. That, based on all we’ve learned about how COVID-19 is spread, is an understandable decision. But it also seems likely that social distancing might need to be enacted when it comes to works of art as well.

This isn’t to say that an Impressionist canvas on display might accidentally cause a nearby sculpture to fall ill. Instead, the news comes via The Guardian, where Daniel Boffey writes that a lauded painting is currently showing the ill effects of being too close to humans.

The painting in question is Edvard Munch’s The Scream — specifically, the 1910 version of it. The painting has been deteriorating in recent years, and a group of scientists and historians unearthed the likely cause:

An international consortium of scientists seeking to identify the main cause of deterioration of the paint in the canvas has discovered Munch accidentally used an impure tube of cadmium yellow which can fade and flake even in relatively low humidity, including when breathed upon by crowds of art lovers.

In other words, getting too close to The Scream might be hazardous to its health.

The painting is currently on display in Oslo’s Munch Museum, which will open in a new location later this year. The discoveries about the painting’s condition will play a role in how it is displayed going forward — and may offer tips for other institutions facing a similar dilemma.

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