A letter to the New York Times today expresses frustration that Edvard Munch’s The Scream will be auctioned in New York this May. The attitude is a common one and it assumes that art is somehow an public possession (an idea promoted by the wealthy when they established museums like New York’s Metropolitan):
None of the four versions of this great work should be hoarded as trophies or investments. They all belong in a gallery for public viewing. It is depressing to think about the art that could enrich all of our lives remaining concealed.
What’s most interesting about this comment is that it is highly unlikely that the writer has ever seen Munch’s work in person. All four versions are in Norway. Her entire experience of the work has been through popular reproductions and pastiches.
Moreover, while entrusted to public care, The Scream two different versions of the work have been stolen at two different times. Both thefts took place at Norwegian museums.
The version of the work being offered by Sotheby’s has never been targeted by thieves presumably because they neither knew where it was nor had any access to it.
Finally, the irony of the letter’s intent is that the work is being sold to fund a public museum and arts center in Norway.
The Place for the Scream (New York Times)