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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Nudity, spaceships, explosions…

MUSEUM GUIDE: Norway’s capital is packed with museums, and they’re often popping up in the news. We’re following that news, and aim to focus every week this autumn on a specific museum or attraction worthy of a visit.
THIS WEEK: Oslo’s Museum of Contemporary Art, a museum that will at times make you laugh, at times get under your skin, but will consistently make you question and imagine.

The Museum of Contemporary Art is housed, at least for now, inside Norway's old central bank building. PHOTO: Isabel Coderre

Explosions. Nudity. Spaceships. Books. A 4m x 4m pair of underwear. Provocative words. These are some snippets from the Museum of Contemporary Art (Museet for Samtidskunst) in Oslo, one of four components of Norway’s National Museum. Located in one of the capital’s oldest neighborhoods, Kvadraturen, just behind the Akershus Fortress and Castle, everything described above can be found within the walls of an historic building: the former head office of the country’s central bank, Norges Bank. Next door is one of the bank’s former departmental offices, which is now home to the National Museum of Architecture. The name of the square where both sit is, accordingly, Bankplassen.

Certainly this museum can be described as amusing. It can also be described as thought-provoking and shocking at times, and some pieces of art made me feel uneasy. Perhaps that means the artist succeeded.

The museum can also make you laugh. Picture a Norges Bank employee walking up the grand stairs of his old office in Kvadraturen, surrounded by granite and crown moldings. Now imagine his amusement, clever intrigue, and surprise to find a statue of Darth Vader thrusting his light saber into the Harry Potter series in the building’s main hall. (That piece is called “Science Fiction vs. Fantasy” by Daniel McDonald.)

“Contemporary art” in this case means pieces created from 1945 onwards. There are currently two exhibitions on display. The first is entitled, “Take Me To Your Leader!”, and is about the relationship between science fiction and art. The exhibition covers the entire first floor and is comprised of paintings, sketches, posters, film clips, sculptures, and more. One example of an artist whose work is part of this exhibition is Swiss artist HR Giger. Giger designed the set for the 1979 movie directed by Ridley Scott called Alien, for which he won an Academy Award.

A key feature of the sci-fi genre is that it imagines and illustrates the future. Yet according to the exhibition pamphlet for Take Me To Your Leader!, science fiction imagines the future as it comments on the present. The pamphlet goes on to say that “science fiction is therefore not a guide to the future, but a criticism of contemporary society.”

The museum’s second exhibition, “Goddesses,” takes up the entire upper floor. The exhibition intends to do away with art’s traditional conceptions of women (and men), and to challenge the way we think of art done by female (and male) artists. It aims to liberate old ideas keeping art in shackles. For instance, many artists featured in the exhibition even reject the “prestige” of certain art materials in favour of something more fresh, such as typed words, draped fabric, women’s stockings, film, and everyday objects. It is in this exhibition that you will find the 4m x 4m pair of white underwear briefs.

There are certainly more customary forms of art featured in “Goddesses,” such as paintings and sculptures. But even these distinguish themselves from their classical counterparts by being modernist sculpture or landscape art reinvigorated.

Oslo’s Museum of Contemporary Art opens, tests and stretches the mind. It even challenges the notion of museums as quiet, reflective places, with sounds of operatic voices, explosions, and blast-offs coming from the films playing on both floors. Yet, it also succeeds in being a place that simply houses beautiful and mesmerizing things. Whether you are looking for one type of museum or the other, whether you are looking for a place to bring children or go alone, this museum has something for everyone – even a good restaurant and café.

The Museum of Contemporary Art (external link)
Open: Closed Mondays. Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday from 11am-5pm, Thursday from 11am-7pm, Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5pm.
Location: Bankplassen 4. Take the bus or trikk to Kongens gate, which is down the street from the museum, or take the T-bane to Stortinget.
Admission: Free


The Ibsen Museum

The Museum of Decorative Arts and Design (Kunstindustrimuseet)

The National Gallery

Norsk Folkemuseum (The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History)

The Viking Ship Museum

Summertime at The Munch Museum

The Natural History Museum – Botanical Gardens

The National Museum – Architecture

The Kon-Tiki Museum

The Maritime Museum

Oscarsborg Fortress

The Polar Ship Fram Museum

“Be a tourist in your own town”

Views and News from Norway/Isabel Coderre
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