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I scream, you scream — but does the new owner of 'The Scream'?

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  May 3, 2012 11:44 AM

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The historic $107 million sale on Wednesday of a version of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" has raised a lot of questions. Why would an unidentified private buyer spend that much money on one of four copies of a work of art that has become an icon about modern life?

Munch has described the scene not as an actual scream, but as a depiction of existential anxiety. As Sebastian Smee wrote in the Globe, "it depicts a person reacting with defensive horror to a scream — 'an endless scream passing through nature,' as the artist himself put it."

But if you have that much money to spend on a piece of art (the price doesn't include the extra $12.9 million sale charge), life has treated you pretty well. Maybe the kids are bratty, or the fourth house wasn't worth the investment, but overall things are looking pretty good.

So what gives with the existential angst? Really. I know everyone tells us that money doesn't buy happiness, and I honestly believe that — having encountered my fair share of miserable one percenters.

But the Munch pastel-on-board drawing is about the traumatic and miserable state of mankind, about the horrors that are part of our modern life — a remote state of affairs for someone whose loose change is apparently counted in the millions.

The buyer of the iconic work is unknown, though there is speculation that it's a Silicon Valley billionaire or Middle Eastern royal. Ironically, at least based on the price, it seems "The Scream" may have been wasted on someone particularly ill-suited to relate.

Reuters photo: A version of Edvard Munch's "The Scream." A different version of the work sold at auction for $119.9 million on Wednesday.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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