Munch and more: art lovers will love Oslo’s spectacular museums
Norway is now home to the largest art museum in Northern Europe. Oslo, with its waterfront architectural sites, is rapidly gaining a reputation as a major global destination for gallery tourists. Here’s what visitors can expect.
Farewells, Death and Despair: Edvard Munch focused on difficult questions, bringing to light feelings that people often prefer to avoid.
Munch himself was no better at handling his rawer emotions, but many found solace in his world-famous works, such as Fear, Melancholy and Jealousy.
You can see them and many more at the new National Museum in Oslo, with a room dedicated to Munch. He counts 18 of his works but most are first likely to recognize The Scream, his most famous. A version of it sold for US$119.9 million (RM539 million) in 2012, a record for an auction.
There’s plenty more to see at the National Museum, Northern Europe’s largest art museum.
It only opened earlier this summer, shortly after another newcomer to the scene, the new Munch Museum which welcomed its first guests in October 2021.
It is a bold building located just opposite the White Opera House that seems to float like an iceberg in the Oslo Fjord. The opera house marked the start of the gentrification of the Bjørvika harbor district in 2008, and much more has happened since.
You can now walk the entire seafront promenade, or even the entire city, which is perfect for pedestrians. From the central Karl-Johans boulevard and the main train station, you can walk to the water and past the Akershus fortress, or to the Ekeberg park, or along the Akerselva river, from the fjord to Grünerløkka clubbing area.
The National Museum, a US$600 million (RM2.7 billion) fortress, houses the country’s most important works of art and it takes you more than a day to explore the 6,500 works displayed in 86 halls.
The collection on the first floor is divided into two parts: Design before and after 1900. Everything is there, from antique busts to Chinese porcelain, Norwegian glass art and all the splendor of Scandinavian design.
On the second floor you see paintings from virtually all periods of art. There is also Sami art, for example by Hannah Ryggen and John Savio, as well as contemporary works.
Then on the top floor, a 7m Light Hall extending over some 130m, presents temporary exhibitions by Norwegian artists.
After all that visual stimulation, step outside and settle into one of Aker Brygge’s outdoor cafes, right by the water.
Or, if you want more, take a stroll to the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, a building by Renzo Piano. It is a place of international contemporary art which regularly offers new exhibitions. Here you can see works by art stars like Damien Hirst as well as others lesser known to the general public.
But in the streets you can also find art in the city. Pass Oslo Castle in a westerly direction, eventually arriving at Vigeland Park with its stone and bronze sculptures by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943). The highlight is a 17 m monolith of intertwined bodies.
Meanwhile in the water in front of the Opera stands the installation She lies by Monica Bonvicini, an interpretation of the painting by Caspar David Friedrich The Arctic Ocean.
And in front of the Munch Museum, a huge bronze statue by British artist Tracey Emin soars into the sky.
Don’t miss the new Munch Museum either, though Oslo locals are less impressed with the structure.
“I like Munch, but I don’t like the museum at all,” says an architect. To some, the building is reminiscent of security gates stacked on top of each other.
But again, it’s what’s inside that counts, which is exciting work.
Munch, who was industrious, left more than 26,000 paintings and drawings in Oslo, as well as 900 works donated by one of his close friends. The museum dedicates seven of its 13 floors to art, with the main exhibition divided into 12 thematic areas.
One room shows three versions of the famous The Scream, which, in fact, was the model for the cry emoji. You see it as a painting, a drawing and a print. Only one version is presented at a time to protect the works from too much light.
Another large room shows three huge monumental paintings that Munch painted for the ceremonial hall of the University of Oslo.
Pop art master Andy Warhol also took some of Munch’s works and recycled his designs in his own way.
Like any good museum, this one in Oslo brings the artist to life and by the end you have a better understanding of his work.
“Without fear and disease, my life would be like a boat without an oar,” he once said. His repeated disappointments in love nourish his paintings. Munch knew that where there is passion, there is pain. Where there is desire, there is also loss.
Art always works within the context of social imperatives: consider the fact that today many expect to go through life happy, self-determined and authentic day after day.
Munch reminds us that this is unrealistic. This may seem disappointing to many, although we can also see it as liberating. – dpa