Munch Museum Reopens with Security Upgrade after 'Scream' Theft

June 17, 2005
Security changes reflect loss of uncensored access to paintings

OSLO, Norway -- The Munch Museum in Oslo was to reopen Friday with massive security upgrades brought on by the brazen theft of two Edvard Munch masterpieces by gunmen in August.

The "The Scream" and "Madonna" paintings are still missing despite five arrests, promises of a reward and a worldwide hunt that involves the FBI in the United States.

The nearly 40 million kroner (US$6.2 million, euro5.12 million) security upgrade of the city-owned museum includes metal detectors and baggage scanners like those used at airports. Key paintings are behind bulletproof glass.

Norwegian news media are describing the remodeled museum as "Fortress Munch."

"The age of innocence is over for the Munch Museum," art historian Holger Kofoed said on the state radio network NRK. "We've lost the opportunity to really see and be close to the paintings in an uncensored way. In a way, one has lost a sort of purity, innocence."

Friday's opening for invited guests includes a collection of Munch self-portraits, as well as other versions of the stolen paintings. The museum opens to the general public on Saturday.

"The Scream," which shows a figure apparently screaming or listening to a scream, has become a 20th century icon of human anxiety. There are three other versions of the painting.

Three masked robbers, including at least one with a pistol, stole "The Scream" and "Madonna" in a daylight robbery on Aug. 22 that left the art world rethinking security.

The museum had alarms, surveillance cameras and unarmed guards at the time of the theft, but there was little they could do to stop armed robbers.

With the new system, visitors have to pass through security gates on the way in and out of the museum. The upgrade also includes improved fire and break-in protection.

Munch's emotionally charged painting style was of great importance in the birth of the 20th century Expressionist movement. "The Scream" and "Madonna" were part of his "Frieze of Life" series, in which sickness, death, anxiety and love are central themes. He died in 1944 at the age of 80.

Police have made five arrests in the case, and the city of Oslo has offered a 2 million kroner (US$310,000, euro255 880) reward for the return of the paintings.

The Norwegian national treasures are listed on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet site for stolen artworks, with a request for tips.

Experts say the two works are priceless, and are far too well known for the thieves to sell.

In 1994, another version of "The Scream" was stolen from the National Gallery in Oslo and was recovered a few months later in a sting operation.

On the Net:
Munch Museum: