Munch celebration gets underway

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After months, even years, of planning, quarreling and funding worries, Norway’s cultural elite gathered in Oslo Wednesday to kick off a year of celebrations to mark the 150th birthday of the country’s most famous artist, Edvard Munch. King Harald was among those attending the festivities at the Oslo City Hall.

Edvard Munch may be rolling in his grave over Oslo politicians' failure to house his priceless art in a new museum, but they have come together for a year of celebration to mark what would have been his 150th birthday. PHOTO: Munch 150.no

Edvard Munch may be rolling in his grave over Oslo politicians’ failure to house his priceless art in a new museum, but they have come together for a year of celebration to mark what would have been his 150th birthday. PHOTO: Munch 150.no

City officials still haven’t been able to agree on a location or funding for a new Munch Museum to house the priceless collection of Munch’s art that he willed to the city upon his death in 1944. Hopes rose a notch on Wednesday when veteran politician Carl I Hagen of the conservative Progress Party, who succeeded in shooting down plans for a new Munch Museum on the waterfront at Bjørvika, proposed setting up a joint city- and state-owned company to guide construction of a new museum. It was the first sign of cooperation from Hagen in months, and the city’s cultural boss viewed it as a step forward.

They all seemed to put their museum battle aside on Wednesday in honour of the artist and, perhaps, out of respect for the monarch in attendance. Around 600 guests were also invited for sparkling wine, musical accompaniment from the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and a special performance based on Munch’s own texts.

Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang, state minister of culture Hadia Tajik, the head of the National Museum, Audun Eckhoff, and the director of the existing if outdated Munch Museum, Stein Olav Henrichsen, were also on hand to usher in a year of no less than 120 special events in Norway and around the world.

Among them are a traveling exhibit of the unique self-portrait of Munch with a cigarette, which began last month, and the final weeks of the smash exhibit now at the Munch Museum in Oslo, The Modern Eye, which drew huge crowds when it opened at the Pompidou Centre in Paris,, the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt and the Tate Modern in London.

It runs until February 17 and will be replaced in June with the largest and most comprehensive exhibit of Munch’s art ever mounted, the Jubileumutstilling Munch 150. It opens June 2 and runs until October 13 at both the Munch Museum and the National Gallery, with the latter downtown showing works from 1882 until 1903 and the museum at Tøyen showing works from 1904 until Munch’s death in 1944.

There will also be a wide assortment of special events linked to the Munch celebration all over the country, from special guided walks in Fredrikstad in honor of Munch’s mother’s family, to a specially composed concert by pianist Kjetil Bjørnstad in November in Sarpsborg dedicated to Munch’s mural Soloppgang and exhibits and lectures in Kragerø, Moss and Åsgardstrand where Munch lived at various periods of his life. On December 12, Munch’s actual birthday, there will be a large celebration with 800 schoolchildren at the farm in Løten, Hedmark County, where the artist was born.

Events will also be held internationally, in Stuttgart, New York and Stockholm. For details, see the website Munch 150 (external link, in Norwegian but somewhat decipherable).

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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