Nearly 900 of the paintings that Norwegian artist Edvard Munch left to the City of Oslo in his will are in such poor condition that they won’t tolerate a move to a new Munch Museum (photo) to be built on the city’s waterfront. A representative of Munch’s family called the city’s treatment of the paintings a “scandal.”
Newspaper Aften reported Thursday that art conservators who have examined the vast Munch collection entrusted to the city’s care say the majority need emergency rehabilitation before they can be moved. Munch bequeathed 1,158 paintings, 4,700 drawings, six sculptures and a variety of other works to the city when he died in 1944.
Alarms rang over the deterioration already last spring, and not all of it can be blamed on the city’s handling of the precious artworks during the past six decades. Some of it is simply the result of age, Munch’s own storage and treatment of his paintings before he turned them over to the city, and some cases of damage. The city, however, has been responsible for the Munch collection and Elisabeth Munch-Ellingsen, among those managing the rights to Munch’s work, isn’t pleased.
“If you ask me, it’s a scandal that an artist of this format hasn’t been made a priority,” Munch-Ellingsen told Aften. “It’s a scandal with two sides: There’s a huge number of paintings stored away and the public doesn’t even have access to them. And then the works aren’t treated properly. This is an inheritance that has not been managed well.
“The City of Oslo inherited a responsibility, and has an obligation to carry it out.”
The city does plan to invest heavily in the new Munch Museum planned to open on the waterfront at Bjørvika in 2014. Before any move, though, conservators claim that the paintings need emergency attention, likely to cost around NOK 22 million.
Gro Balas, the longtime Labour Party politician who’s been a city cultural bureaucrat for several years, wouldn’t talk about the city’s neglect of the paintings. “It’s not constructive to talk about what should have been done earlier,” Balas told Aften. “What’s happening now is that since 2004, the city has allocated NOK 77 million for securing, conserving and research around the paintings.
“What’s needed now is some acute attention that must be done before the move.”
She claims her department has forwarded funding requests, which haven’t been handled yet by city politicians.