New climax in museum drama

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NEWS ANALYSIS: The saga of Oslo’s “museums on the move” hit a new climax in recent days after one museum claimed it was being forced to close to the public and another’s pending move to new quarters was reported to be under threat. Some blame all the turbulence on political prestige.

The Norwegian Maritime Museum may be the biggest loser of all, amidst all the turbulence around museums in Oslo. PHOTO: Views and News

If that’s the case, Norway’s venerable maritime museum on Bygdøy is the biggest loser.

It was just last winter when both a government minister and the crown prince made a highly publicized visit to the maritime museum (until recently called Sjøfartsmuseum, now Norsk Maritimt Museum), after a burst of refurbishment. The good times didn’t last long. Late last week, new museum director Per G Norseng announced that budget problems would force the museum to close to the public from January 1, with only a “possibility” of reopening in 2012.

Norseng, who stepped in for the museum’s former director who resigned in protest after just five months on the job, called the pending closure “a cultural political scandal.” He said an acute lack of funding from both the state and the City of Oslo simply forced him cut staffing by seven full-time equivalent positions, leaving the museum with inadequate staff to greet the public. The museum has also suffered conflicts between its staff and the museum’s board.

“We can’t afford to stay open,” Norseng told newspaper Aftenposten. The museum’s research and conservation operations will keep going, barely, while staff hopes for better treatment in the 2012 budget.

The future of the Viking Ships Museum is also unclear. PHOTO: Views and News

For a maritime nation like Norway, with its long seafaring traditions, the closure of the maritime museum came as a shock. Editorials have called it a “national shame,” while Jan Langfeldt, an author based in Ski south of Oslo, wrote in a commentary in Aftenposten this week that he can’t understand why the maritime-related museums on Bygdøy can’t be allowed to flourish where they are, noting plans to move the Viking ships to Bjørvika and a possible move of the Kon-Tiki to Larvik if the Viking ships leave. Only the polar ship Fram would be left on Bygdøy.

“You can wonder what’s happening in Norway,” wrote Langfeldt. “Why can’t we take care of our history, and in the buildings we have today?” He was referring to several other moving plans, for the museums making up the National Museum (including the National Gallery and the Museum of Contemporary Art among others) and for the Munch Museum, long based at Tøyen on Oslo’s east side.

At the same time, the finances of the much-visited Folk Museum on Bygdøy are also so poor that large portions of its exhibits have been closed to the public for years, even though Members of Parliament have voiced support for an entirely new museum, to house treasures from the Royal Palace that also are stored away for the time being.

Plans for the new Munch Museum face controversy, too. PHOTO: Herreros Arquitectos

This week, news broke that the famed Munch Museum may not be moving to a gleaming new high-rise planned for Oslo’s waterfront at Bjørvika after all. Newspapers Dagsavisen and Aften wrote that objections to the high-rise by state conservator (Riksantikvaren) Jørn Holme, who claims it’s too tall and blocks views, may delay or even cancel the entire project. The museum was supposed to be finished by 2014-2015.

Controversy also continues to bubble around plans for a new National Museum at Vestbane, near the inner harbour and City Hall. It will cost more than the Opera House, and some think it’s too minimalistic and will ruin the character of, for example, the National Gallery collections.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that we don’t cooperate as well now as when Norway’s economy was poorer,” Langfeldt wrote. “There’s a lot of prestige in using large sums of money for new, great buildings. But it often costs less to simply maintain or expand what we have.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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