Munch jubilee put museum on a roll

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Last year’s celebrations of Norway’s most famous artist, Edvard Munch, have proven to be a huge success, boosting prospects for the new Munch Museum planned for Oslo’s waterfront. The good times have kept rolling this year, even though estimated costs of a new Munch Museum have risen.

The new Munch Museum (center) will add to the high-rises on Oslo's eastern waterfront at Bjørvika. Construction is due to begin next year, with an opening in 2019. ILLUSTRATION: Estudio Herreros

The new Munch Museum (center) will add to the high-rises on Oslo’s eastern waterfront at Bjørvika. Construction is due to begin next year, with an opening in 2019. ILLUSTRATION: Estudio Herreros

The final numbers are in after last year’s Munch jubilee, and they confirm it was quite a party. The so-called “Munch 150” jubilee was meant to celebrate what would have been the artist’s 150th birthday. It turned into a long-awaited show of support for an artist and a museum that many felt had been ignored by Norwegian officials for too long. Huge international interest, along with huge prices for Munch’s art, also prodded state and local politicians into finally approving construction of a bigger and better museum to house the huge collection of Munch’s art that the artist himself willed to the City of Oslo when he died in 1944.

The jubilee comprised around 80 different exhibits in Norway and abroad, with the one in Oslo attracting  a record half-million spectators. It was a joint exhibit at both the National Gallery and the Munch Museum, giving the latter a much-needed boost while waiting for a new museum to finally be built.

Newspaper Dagsavisen reported on Tuesday that visitors to the Munch Museum in Oslo’s Tøyen district rose 64 percent last year over the prior year, when another traveling exhibit that had won rave reviews in Paris, London and Frankfurt also attracted crowds. Sales at the museum last year were up by NOK 2.8 million and ticket income for the joint “Munch 150” exhibit hit nearly NOK 12 million.

“So far this year, visitors to the Munch Museum are up 30 percent over what we had in 2012 (the last “normal” year before last year’s jubilee),” museum director Stein Olav Henrichsen told Dagsavisen. He notes that “many are familiar with The Scream,” Munch’s most famous painting, but “not as many know it was Munch who painted it, that he was from Oslo and that we have a Munch Museum. Therefore we’ve been working at promoting the Munch Museum more internationally.”

That includes joint marketing programs with Color Line, which runs cruise-ferries between Oslo and Kiel in Germany, and Thon Hotels, both of which think there’s potential for attracting far more culturally oriented tourists from Europe to Oslo and elsewhere in Norway. “We think Edvard Munch’s international star status can contribute to increased attention on Norway,” said Morten Thorvaldsen, managing director of Thon Hotels.

The higher visitor counts and levels of attention already bode well as preparations continue for groundbreaking of a new Munch Museum on Oslo’s waterfront at Bjørvika, next to the Opera House. City officials announced last week that the price of the museum had risen to around NOK 2.8 billion, of which the new building itself accounts for NOK 2 billion. That’s up from NOK 1.6 billion in initial budgets from 2009, and at least one opposition politician, Carl I Hagen of the Progress Party, raised immediate objections.City officials responsible for the project, however, defended the higher sum and insist they have control over the museum’s budget. They point to rising business costs (NOK 246 million) and improvements.

“There are good reasons for the higher numbers, including more environmental features, better facilities for the public and more funding for securing the building and its valuable contents,” Henrichsen said.

The city government leader in charge of cultural issues, Hallstein Bjercke of the Liberal Party, agreed, noting there will be three new outdoor terraces built for the public, a new entrance for large groups and better protection against fire. Construction is due to begin next year, with an opening date in 2019.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund