Munch Museum quarrel continues

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They’re not exactly screaming, but the quarreling over a new museum to house the treasures of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch was shifting into high gear this week as hearings get underway. Munch’s most famous painting Skriket (The Scream), meanwhile, has once again been saved from ruin.

This design for the new Munch Museum won an architects' competition, but remains controversial. At right, the eastern wall of the Opera House. PHOTO: Herreros Arquitectos

The painting came under threat last month when bitterly cold temperatures outside caused a condensation problem inside the existing Munch Museum in Oslo’s Tøyen district. Both The Scream and Madonna were quickly stored away in vaults, and the main room where they were on exhibit was closed until emergency maintenance work could be completed.

Then the entire museum closed, to prepare for a new exhibit, and it’s all due to re-open on Thursday. The main exhibition room has been dried and newly re-insulated, but similar work is needed in the rest of the museum. “To create optimal conditions for Munch’s art, the entire museum should be rehabilitated, but there are no plans for that,” Thomas Bartholdsen of the City of Oslo, which owns the museum and its contents, told newspaper Aftenposten last week.

Instead plans are slowly moving forward for an entirely new museum, to replace the existing one that’s long been considered too small and outdated to properly house Munch’s masterpieces. It underwent renovation to improve its security systems following the armed robbery of The Scream and Madonna in 2004, but has never been able to fully display the fast collection inherited by the city when Munch died in 1944. Most of his paintings have to be placed in storage at any given time.

‘Huge challenges’
“We have huge challenges,” says Stein Olav Henrichsen, the new director of the Munch Museum. They include worn out heating and circulation systems, mounting problems with mildew, lack of space and a poor working environment for employees.

Plans call for the museum to move to a brand-new building on Oslo’s waterfront at Bjørvika, next to the Opera House, but city planners, politicians, architects and cultural personalities haven’t yet agreed on what it will look like or where, exactly, it will be placed. Spanish architect Juan Herroros won a competition with his 11-story-high design called Lambda, but it’s unpopular with city preservationists and planners who fear it will block views.

They’re calling for a lower, less-imposing design. A six-week hearing period begins this week over various alternatives, when officials and ordinary citizens alike can have their say through the city planning department (Plan- og bygningsetaten – external link). Then there are those who don’t want the Munch Museum to move to the waterfront at all. They want to to keep it in the eastside working district of Tøyen, and rather expand or build a new museum on its existing site.

The hearing period runs from January 17 through February, with a major public meeting scheduled for 6pm on February 1 at Sentrum Scene in Oslo.

Meanwhile, one of the largest Edvard Munch exhibits ever mounted abroad will open in September at the Pompidou Center in Paris. It will feature around 60 Munch paintings from 1900-1944 plus around 50 of the artist’s own photographs, 25 lithographs and four films. The exhibit will be produced in cooperation with the Munch Museum in Oslo.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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