Nationwide Museum of Norway: Climb the European Cultural Podium

On Saturday, June 11, 2022, the National Museum of Norway opened its doors. Its surface and the size of its collection immediately make it one of the largest museums in the world.. This event, whose national importance is highlighted, also marks Oslo’s entry into the international cultural scene.

Bringing together four different museums in the same space is the challenge that the City of Oslo has set itself for almost twenty years. As a legal entity, the National Museum of Norway was created in 2003. It is the result of a merger between the National Gallery, the Museum of Art and Design, the Museum of Architecture and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Its scale today rivals the Louvre in Paris, the Riljskmuseum in Amsterdam or the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

an eclectic project

The collection therefore brings together more than 400,000 works of art, architecture and design. It represents an immense national heritage. For example, there is a famous version of Shout out by Edvard Munch. The museum is also open to the world and to creation: paintings by Matisse and Picasso coexist with a dress worn by Kim Kardashian. Surprisingly… The project is in fact total and testifies to a desire for dynamism through the primary function of a museum, namely that of conserving works. From the beginning, however, critics have pointed to the underrepresentation of Aboriginal women and artists.

In this collection are exposed 6,500 works, in addition to temporary exhibitions. They are divided into three floors. The first concerns art from Antiquity to the present day; the second is dedicated to contemporary creation; finally the latter hosts the exhibitions. One of the first three pays homage to the museum’s roots: “Scandinavian design and the US” is really interested in the exchanges between Scandinavia and the US for a century, to ask what Scandinavian design is.

When culture and environment intersect

The space is over 54,600 m2, with more than 13,000 m2 dedicated to the exhibition area. The building, grey, smooth and sober, is the result of eight years of construction and is not unanimous. In fact, it is compared to a prison or a hospital for the lack of windows. A bold bet? We would say pretty consistent. Oslo’s official travel website explains that ” the design specifications emphasize the dignity and longevity of the architecture more than the sensational. The museum is designed as a solid-looking, clean-lined building that respectfully blends in with its surroundings and existing landmarks such as Oslo City Hall and Akershus Fortress. Designed by Kleihues Schuwerk, it is located in the district of Aker Brygge, on the banks of the Oslofjord, one of the most beautiful places in the city. The main materials are oak, bronze, marble, slate and limestone: these are durable materials that illustrate the desire to minimize the museum’s carbon footprint.

Yet ecological thinking is as intimately intimate with cultural politics in Norway as nowhere else. For the public power, art represents a ” integral part of our heritage and cultural identity and as part of the overall management of the environment and resources. Thus, the management of national heritage is the responsibility of the Ministry of Climate and Environment. This defines the main lines of cultural policy. It then assigns to each municipality the responsibility of guaranteeing the maintenance and management of listed sites and monuments, in a sustainable perspective that considers and respects the existence of indigenous communities. In the case of the National Museum, the architectural choice to favor longevity corresponds perfectly to this crossroads of issues. The institution is therefore emblematic of Norwegian politics.

Joining the circle of world cities…

However, public intentions go beyond the national framework alone. Indeed, Oslo Mayor Raymond Johansen leads theRequalification project of the “city of the fjord”, with a view to the cultural rehabilitation of the city. While Norway’s international power is largely based on hydrocarbons, the country is culturally overshadowed by Sweden and Denmark.

That’s why the city has been undergoing major urban and architectural changes for fifteen years. The year 2008 thus saw the birth of a new opera house, then the Deichman library in 2020, the new Munch museum in 2021 and finally the National Museum. With these new institutions, Norway hopes to join the circle of European – even global – cultural metropolises. Such a project is comparable to that of the United Arab Emirates when the Louvre Abu Dhabi was born.

By establishing strong relationships with the population

At the same time, the new institution affirms its primary intention to establish a strong bond with Norwegians. We wanted to make it a place where people from all walks of life would meet. A place where you can come to study, attend shows, attend a meeting or have a coffee and read a book says marketing director Tord Krogtoft. A place of interaction and exchange, therefore, dedicated to the national population. The reasons are ideological, but also economic. The construction of the building, worth 600 million euros, was almost entirely financed by the state – hence Norwegian taxes. The museum thus feels indebted to a public to whom it claims to owe its existence.

According to the tourist website visitnorway, the cultural practices of Norwegians mainly concern a national heritage. This way, ” Norway’s most visited museums are those that showcase unique artwork and crafts from Norwegian culture and traditions, from the Viking Age to Edvard Munch. The other two exhibitions in progress correspond to this tradition. The first, “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”, is indeed about the painters Erik Werenskiold and Theodor Kittelsen, who illustrated Norwegian tales during the 19th century. The second, “I call it art” is a questioning about what is art and what is not, the boundary between the two and the social issues that this raises, such as identity, democracy, belonging, nationality. Also the museum asks its visitors about its heritage and heritage.

In relation to the public, it is also about creating a floating presentation of the works. If their materiality is something permanent, the way we perceive them evolves. In this, the museum project is very dynamic. One million visitors a year are expected – for comparison, the Louvre in 2021 received 2.8 million. After a two-year delay due to the pandemic, this huge institution is finally opening its doors: a must-visit when you come to Oslo.

Visual: National Gallery in Oslo, now part of the National Museum of Norway, CC © Bjørn Erik Pedreson.

Leave a Comment