He called them his “children” and, as a good father, he balked at the idea of this extremely large family being separated: more than 26,000 Munch works, including universally known gems like “The Scream”, have a new home in Oslo.
Farewell the old, obsolete, poorly secured and eccentric building in the east of the city. This Friday, the Munch Museum takes its new quarters in the hypercentre inside a spacious, modern and… maligned.
“This is perhaps the largest museum dedicated to a single artist,” emphasizes museum director Stein Olav Henrichsen, walking around the owner.
With its 13 floors and 26,313 m2, the new building called “Lambda” offers five times more exhibition space than the sad building that previously housed the national treasure in the popular district of Tøyen.
Unmarried and childless, Edvard Munch (1863-1944) bequeathed his work to the later chosen municipality of Oslo at the expense of the Norwegian state. The state had fallen under the control of Nazi Germany, which saw in this pioneer of expressionism a representative of “degenerate art”.
On the edge of the fjord, just behind the opera house, the new museum designed by the Spanish architectural firm Herreros repairs a historical injustice by giving the artist the setting his work deserves.
Some 500,000 people are expected – and more than a million expected – to come and contemplate the approximately 200 works presented permanently on a space of 4,500 m2.
In the midst of lurid recurrences such as anguish, despair and death, a few less depressing puffs: love, self-portraits, landscapes…. To the pale complexion of naked bodies, sick or lifeless, respond the glowing colors of manes or skies.
There is of course “The Cry”, an emblematic motif of which the museum has several copies (a painting, a drawing, six lithographs and multiple sketches), and other major works such as “Vampire”, “The Madonna” or “The Sick child”.
But also countless little-known pieces, sculptures, photographs, a film and monumental paintings (“The Sun”, “The Researchers”) that had to be hoisted, at the time of construction, through a special slot, then re-plugged.
“Munch wanted to have a museum. He referred to his works as his children and he wanted them all to be collected in a collection,” says curator Trine Otte Bak Nielsen. “I think he would be very happy to see what we did”.
A ‘brutal building’
However, the building is not unanimous. Its oblique top makes it tick and the bright bay windows promised on the drawing boards are now hidden by aluminum rails that some resemble hideous “guardrails”.
As early as 2019, art historian Tommy Sørbø had taken up the pen to denounce a “rampage” of Oslo, a “catastrophe foretold”. It persists and signs today, “in any case for the outside and the entrance”.
“The lobby looks like an airport, warehouse, hotel or commercial building,” he told AFP. “Absolutely nothing in the choice of colors and materials announces that the place is home to one of the greatest artists in the world”.
The steering is round. The museum, she assures, must provoke, just as Munch’s work had done in its day.
“The building is very suitable for the collection because it is a monumental building, it is a brutal building, located in the heart of the city and requires reflection,” says Henrichsen.
Will the damned “guardrails” at least deter evil spirits? Over the years, Munch’s work has been the subject of multiple robberies and burglaries in Norway.
One of the most spectacular flares saw criminals seize the “Cry” and “The Madonna” in the former Munch Museum in 2004. An operation to entertain the police in the aftermath of a bloody heist in a bank and which will fortunately know a happy end: the two masterpieces will be found.
“It’s probably the safest building in Norway but you won’t realize it: security is very discreet because we want attention to be focused on the art,” says Henrichsen.
“I can publicly proclaim it: there will be no theft here”.