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CULTURE

Oslo’s long-awaited Munch Museum opens to public

On Friday, the new museum containing the works of Norway's most celebrated artist and painter of "The Scream", Edvard Munch, opens to the public.

Oslo's long-awaited Munch Museum opens to public
The Munch museum opens in Oslo on Friday. Pictured is the sign above the museums entrance. Photo by Ranurte on Unsplash

To Edvard Munch, they were his children. And like any doting father, he hated the idea of them straying too far from home.

Now, more than 26,000 artworks from the master expressionist’s “family” — including his best known piece, “The Scream” — have moved under one roof in the enormous and custom-built MUNCH museum on the shore of Oslo Fjord.

Gone is the old, rundown and poorly secured Munch Museum in the Norwegian capital’s outskirts — from where a version of “The Scream” and another masterpiece, “Madonna”, were stolen by armed robbers in 2004.

On Friday, the new museum opens to the public smack dab in the heart of Oslo, in a luxuriously spacious modernist building that has sparked much controversy.

“This might be the biggest museum for a single artist,” museum director Stein Olav Henrichsen says as he gives a tour of the building.

With 13 floors covering more than 26,000 square metres (280,000 square feet), the new building offers five times more exhibition space than the gloomy museum that until now housed Norway’s national treasure.

A bachelor who had no children, Munch (1863-1944) bequeathed his work to the city of Oslo. He had originally intended to leave it to the Norwegian state, but changed his will at the last-minute to avoid the art falling into unwanted hands.

‘Degenerate art’

At the time, Norway was occupied by the Nazis, who considered the pioneer of expressionism to be a maker of “degenerate art”.

Rising from the shore of the fjord and next to the city’s iconic opera house, the new museum aims to make up for a historical injustice by finally giving the world-renowned artist the building his admirers feel his oeuvre deserves.

Half a million visitors are expected each year — with the museum hoping for more than a million — to view the 200 works on permanent display across 4,500 square metres.

Amid some of the recurring darker themes like angst, despair and death are less depressing ones exploring love, self-portraiture and landscapes. Pallid and sickly naked bodies mix with fiery red strokes depicting mops of hair or sunsets.

And of course, there is “The Scream”. The museum owns several versions of the iconic artwork: one painting, one drawing, six lithographs and several sketches.

It also features other masterpieces such as “Madonna” — both it and the stolen “Scream” were recovered by police two years later — “Vampire” and “The Sick Child”, as well as some lesser known Munch pieces.

Among the latter are sculptures, photographs, a film, and two massive paintings — “The Sun” and “The Researchers” — which had to be lifted into the museum during construction through a hole in the facade.

“Munch wanted to have a museum. He talked about his children (referring to) all his works and he wanted them to be together as a collection,” says curator Trine Otte Bak Nielsen.

“I think he would be very happy to see what we have made now.”

‘Brutal building’

The building itself, dubbed “Lambda” because its slanted top resembles the letter of the Greek alphabet with the same name, has been the subject of controversy.

That shape has riled some, while the luminous glass windows promised in the designs are largely hidden beneath what some say resemble monstrous metal shutters.

Back in 2019, art historian Tommy Sorbo slammed the project as a “pollution” of Oslo, a “coming catastrophe”. He maintains that opinion today, “at least for the exterior and the entrance”.

“The lobby looks like an airport, a warehouse, a hotel or a commercial building,” he told AFP.

“There is absolutely nothing in the choice of colours and materials to indicate that the place houses one of the greatest artists in the world.” Management has shrugged off the criticism, saying the museum should provoke people in the same way Munch’s art did at the time it was made.

“The building suits the collection very well because it’s a monumental building, it’s … a brutal building,” Henrichsen says.

“You need to actually have an opinion about it,” he adds. 

So will the much-decried “metal shutters” be enough to dissuade the thieves?

Over the years, Munch’s works have been the object of several high-profile heists. Perhaps the most spectacular was that daring 2004 midday armed robbery.

“This is the probably most secure building in Norway but you won’t feel it when you come here. The security is very delicate and we want to focus on the art experience,” Henrichsen said.

“I can assure everybody that there’s not going to be a robbery here,” he said. 

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SPORT

Norway gives green light for children’s free time activities

Children and young people in Norway have been given the green light to restart a range of sports and free time activities, so long as they can find a way to stick to strict social distancing and hygiene guidelines.

Norway gives green light for children's free time activities
Culture Miniser Abid Raja announced the decision on Monday. Photo
Culture minister Abid Raja told the NTB newswire on Monday afternoon that sports teams, choirs, bands, and other group activities for children and young people could now restart, although he stressed they should only take place “so long as the infection rules are upheld”.  
 
Andreas Borud, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Children and Youth Council, said that the decision would be welcomed by young people across the country. 
 
“I think it's very positive,” he said. “Over time, I think we will see a careful increase in the selection of activities that they can offer their members.” 
 
But he warned that which sorts of sports or other pastimes could resume would be limited by what is possible under infection guidelines.
 
“It's going to be a very limited list of activities if you have to keep to groups of five people and keep a distance of two metres,” he warned.  
 
 
The Norwegian Guide and Scout Association has already analysed their normal activities to better understand which of them can be restarted over the next couple of weeks, with youth political movements undergoing a similar process.
 
“Activities that don't involve much physical contact are most likely to start first, together with activities that are outdoors,” Borud said. “A lot of the political youth organisations will soon be able to hold meetings at their local branches.” 
 
Football, and other team sports will also restart training, although normal matches remain out of the question. 
 
“The sports movement was very early in creating their own guidelines for how you could have training, and they have made guidelines for this together with the healthcare authorities, so a lot of sports clubs are also arranging activities now.” 
 
The marching bands which play such a big role in the country's National Day celebrations on May 17 will also soon restart rehearsals. 
 
“Marching bands and choirs will be able to restart some of their activities not far from now — but it won't be a full marching band standing in a usually cramped space,” Borud stressed. 
 
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