A version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream recently sold at a Sotheby’s auction for a record-breaking $119.9 million. Which is ironic, because the image always looked a little on the cheap side to these eyes. Maybe that’s because the painting is one of art’s most iconic, parodied on The Simpsons and printed on countless refrigerator magnets and posters the world over. For a work so famous — and expensive, because, really, we all know that’s the true measure of merit — I have a few bones to pick with it. And it’s not the only one. Here are five works of art I would have done differently. Better, naturellement.
The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1895
Not many people know this, but Munch’s Scream series was actually painted (or drawn, as in this version) on cardboard, which is basically the world’s least chic material, comprising everything from liquor-bottle boxes to moving boxes. Likewise, the piece looks like it was drawn by a child not yet familiar with the tactile art of holding a pencil and chooses to paw a crayon instead. And to me that spells c-h-e-a-p. Look, it isn’t even one-of-a-kind.
To class this up a notch, the first thing I would do is start over, making sure to stop after making one version. Then I would set it someplace more realistic, maybe on a rollercoaster or in a haunted house; I always seem to scream in places like that. Finally, I would lose those two losers in the background. After all, this is called The Scream, not Some Screaming Ghoul and Two Other Guys.
La Gioconda (Mona Lisa) by Leonardo da Vinci, 1503–1519
One thing I never got about the Mona Lisa is what’s going on behind her. Sure, I get that it’s supposed to be a view of the Italian countryside, maybe some land that her family owns, but really it looks like one of those grade-school picture day set-ups — all kinds of flat and phony. In that case, why not green-screen it up and take good ol’ Mona to the beach or to the White House or to the moon? Or, in the spirit of the best-ever class pictures, go for the laser light show treatment. Also, somebody needs to talk to homegirl about her hair, which I would be more than happy to do.
Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, 1889
Van Gogh is the type of artist loved by grandmothers and other people who know nothing about art. You know who else those people like? Thomas Kincade, another artist known for painting light. Think about it. Seriously though, have you ever seen a star that looks like that? No. I didn’t think so.
To make this painting better, I, like Van Gogh, would paint the view from my window — only unlike the artist my window is not in an insane asylum it’s in a crappy walk-up apartment — which consists of a smoggy New York City sky and the maybe-visible moon, plus the megawatt spotlight from the parking lot next door that point directly in my window and never goes off. Actually, it might not look that different after all.
The Fountain by Marcel Duchamp, 1917
Do I even need to say what’s missing from R. Mutt’s famous readymade? How about a little collabo with Piero Manzoni? Alternately, some working plumbing to turn that thing into a proper water fountain. Refreshing for the mind and body.
Campbell’s Soup Cans by Andy Warhol, 1962
Everybody loves Andy Warhol. Art directors love him, college girls in their Edie Sedgwick phase love him, Pittsburgh loves him. Well you know who doesn’t love Andy Warhol? Me. And I’ll tell you why: Andy Warhol played the art game better than anybody before him, getting the most cash for the least work until Damien Hirst came around thirty years later. And I’m somebody who likes a deal.
To make Warhol’s soups more palatable, I would expand the series to include a more inclusive range of soups like matzo ball and tortilla. And also, since soup alone is hardly a meal, I would offer sides of bread or an appropriate sandwich. Besides, everyone knows the best soup is lentil, which Warhol totally forgot to include in the original series. Thirty-two soup cans and not one’s lentil? For shame.