Tuesday’s royal opening of Norway’s new Hamsun Center, dedicated to controversial literary giant Knut Hamsun, has been described as both conciliatory and chaotic. It was also short-lived. The center will need to close its doors to the public again in just a few weeks, because it’s not finished and lacks an exhibit.
The pending closure has been called both “embarrassing” and “a scandal” in the Norwegian media. While most reports mentioned how it took 15 years to open the center, because of public arguments over form and financing, it’s actually going to take 16.
The new Hamsunsenteret isn’t expected to re-open with exhibits about Hamsun’s life and work until next summer.
An estimated 3,000 persons gathered anyway at Hamarøy in northern Norway on Tuesday, because it was Hamsun’s 150th birthday and the climax of a year celebrating his literary works. Crown Princess Mette-Marit pronounced the center as formally open despite its lack of content. Most in attendance were probably just relieved the center finally had materialized at all, after years of delays.
The center, designed by American architect Steven Holl, consists of a six-story main building and an adjacent auditorium. It covers 1,500 square meters and cost NOK 142 million, seven times the amount local civic fathers first envisioned back in the early 1980s.
The state finally stepped in, just two years ago, to guarantee its financing. Also backing the project financially are the local county of Norland (Nordland fylkeskommune), the township of Hamarøy (where Hamsun grew up), the foundation dedicated to freedom of expression Fritt Ord, a foundation backed by Norway’s largest bank DnB NOR and other private sponsors.Tuesday’s festivities included a champagne breakfast, a flotilla of Nordland boats, guided tours of the unfinished complex and an outdoor performance featuring some of Hamsun’s writings.
The program also included the first-ever showing of a documentary on Hamsun that will run on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) this autumn. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that while it didn’t offer much new material, it did provide perhaps the day’s most substantial contribution towards understanding the author whose literary reputation often has been overshadowed by his Nazi sympathies.
Many agree that the realization of Norway’s first actual monument to Hamsun, and the year’s events tied to his 150th birthday, have helped address Norwegians’ ambivalence towards one of their greatest literary figures. One thing is clear: Interest in Hamsun’s works has soared this year, with publisher Gyldendal launching a special edition of Hamsun’s collected texts and sales of existing books more than tripling. Libraries have also reported a sharp increase in demand for Hamsun’s books, with Sult (Hunger) the most popular of all.