May 2

2012 – Edvard Munch’s The Scream sells at auction for $119,299,600


Some artists were way overpaid. Bryan Tierney remembered the story about Picasso, so famous in his later life that if he ate in a fancy restaurant and simply scribbled on a napkin afterwards, the improvised art would be more than enough to pay for the elaborate meal.

Oh, no sir, your cash is no good here. We’d much prefer a sloppily drawn face with a crooked nose and misaligned eyes.

Basically a child’s drawing — proportions and perspectives all wrong, nothing like the human face it pretends to represent — but since it’s an original Picasso, it’s worth thousands.

Edvard Munch’s The Scream was more on his mind these days. The artist made four versions of the iconic piece, two painted and two in pastels. One pastel version sold for almost $120 million in 2012 — at the time, the most expensive public sale of a single piece of art.

And it wasn’t even the best version. The chalky colors are too bright on the pastel, missing the subtle muted shades of the more famous painted version on display in Norway’s National Gallery.

If you asked Tierney, the fame of the image gave it most of its value. Admittedly, the concept of the piece was impressive — the way the agitated human figure sends waves of anxiety that ripple the earth, water and air in his surroundings. But Munch’s skill as an artist? All too easy to duplicate.

Tierney did it himself. Several times a day.

In its final weeks, the US Government adopted a line drawing suggestive of Munch’s The Scream, to convey a warning that crossed all language barriers: Leave immediately. Radioactive waste is present in this area.

Tierney painted the image on the roofs of automobiles, on the doors of buildings. Large on the side of an abandoned barn, on the giant drum of an empty water tower. Leave. Turn back.

As he surveyed his latest iteration, on the side of a crashed moving van, Tierney thought he might have caught something new that Munch had missed. The waves of agony in Tierney’s painted sky carried over into the real-life landscape beyond the broken vehicle.

He raised his hands to both sides of his face, pressed them vice-tight against his cheeks, his mouth opening as a low howl began to stir within him, shaking his entire body, yearning to transform the earth, water, and sky around him.