Green light for new sculpture park

A hotly debated new sculpture park, backed by a high-profile real estate developer known for glorifying the female form, looks set to win approval from city officials in Oslo. If all goes as planned, female statues will soon adorn trails at Ekeberg, one of the capital’s best viewpoints.

The waterfront at Bjørvika in Oslo is still under redevelopment, and now plans call for a gondola to run up to Ekeberg, the hill in the background. Christian Ringnes' sculpture park will be placed behind his Ekeberg Restaurant, the white building on the hill, which offers stunning views over Oslo and down the fjord. PHOTO: Views and News

Brewery heir Christian Ringnes, who has built up a fortune in the real estate business, has wanted to create the park for years, since he renovated the adjacent landmark Ekeberg Restaurant and helped turn it into a popular dining destination.

Ringnes also wants to ultimately build a gondola that would run from the newly redeveloped waterfront area around the Opera House at Bjørvika up to Ekeberg. The energetic developer has claimed the park “will be loved” once all the controversy dies down.

He reminds critics that Gustav Vigeland’s sculptures and plans for the now-famous Frogner Park in Oslo also met lots of criticism and controversy when it was proposed and developed, and that it took years to get it finished. Criticism from the Oslo-based newspaper Dagbladet didn’t die down, Ringnes wrote in a recent defense of his own park plans, until five years after it opened.

Real estate developer Christian Ringnes, characteristically dapper in an ascot instead of a tie, says he's been surprised by the vociferous objections to his planned sculpture park at Ekeberg, which now looks likely to be built. PHOTO: Views and News

“I must say I’m surprised by the strength of the criticism,” Ringnes told local newspaper Aften this week. “Those who are against the plans have received a lot of attention.”

Among them are local hikers who want to keep the forested area around Ekeberg as natural as possible, some legal experts who claim Ringnes is effectively buying a re-zoning and permits for himself, and local commentator and publisher Ander Heger, who has bashed Ringnes’ statues as “kitsch” and bronze examples of poor taste. Members of the local Nordstrand Labour Party chapter have pointed out that the city allowed Ringnes to finance the city’s examination of his proposal and paid for the staff’s time at the cultural department.

Some call the statues “grotesque” and Ringnes himself admitted to newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) recently that NOK 10 million-worth of the sculptures he’s already bought for the park have been rejected by an art council set up to evaluate what will actually be allowed in the park. Ringnes has committed to use NOK 100 million (around USD 18 million) on sculptures for the park and he says he’s already spent more than that.

All told, Ringnes will invest NOK 300 million in the park: NOK 100 for its development, NOK 100 million on its sculptures and another NOK 100 million on maintenance over the next 50 years. He’s bound by the council and height restrictions on the park’s adornments, and he also had to soften the emphasis on female sculptures, to conform to requirements now that the park merely be “feminine inspired.” Some of those already purchased and approved are by renowned artists such as Rodin and Dali.

City officials have nonetheless thanked him for his contribution to the city, although lawyers worry they’re getting into a legal minefield when a development on city-owned property is financed entirely by private interests. Ringnes promises minimal impact on the local nature and that only 10 percent of the areas 255 mål (roughly 64 acres) will be affected.

Ringnes is also willing to finance the gondola project, which would be a new means of carrying visitors up to the Ekeberg plateau from downtown. The last political holdout, the Socialist Left party (SV), agreed this week to go along with both the park and the gondola project, although it, too, has met criticism over the height of its masts.

Knut Even Lindsjørn, a member of SV’s group on the city council, told Aften the park “will bring new life to an area the city has neglected for many years. It will be a new attraction in the city.” SV, known for its environmental concerns, was satisfied that Ringnes’ park project will respect the nature and cultural history of the area.

Critics continue to claim Ringnes is a wealthy entrepreneur who has effectively bought the city’s approval. Lindsjørn rejected the argument, noting that “he must be allowed to have good ideas, even though he’s rich.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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