More quarreling over Munch legacy

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As news broke that a recently auctioned version of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” would go on exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York this fall, officials in Oslo were no closer to deciding where their versions of the same famous painting will ultimately be housed. Arguing continues over the future of the Munch Museum.

No one knows where a new Munch Museum will eventually land. Here, the existing museum at Tøyen. PHOTO: Views and News

Oslo officials are keenly aware that a new wave of interest in Norway’s most famous artist has been washing over Europe and the US. Some feel it’s embarrassing that the City of Oslo, which inherited Munch’s vast collection of his own works, can’t make a decision on how it intends to care for and exhibit such valuable treasures in the future.

Yet another round of reports on potential locations and models for a new Munch Museum were delivered to city officials last week. Plans had been announced several years ago that both the existing Munch Museum at Tøyen and the Stenersen Museum at Vika would be merged and moved to a new high-rise museum on Oslo’s eastern waterfront next to the Opera House. Those plans, though, became the subject of political squabbling and power plays and were eventually dashed by the Oslo city council late last year.

Merger objections
Then the Stenersen family, whose patriarch had also donated his art collection to the city, objected to how their museum (which also has featured some valuable Munch paintings) was suffering in the shadow of the Munch Museum. Newspaper Aftenposten reported recently that the family feels like their wings have been clipped, while visitor counts decline dramatically. They want to pull themselves out of the merger with the Munch Museum and that doesn’t seem to bother city politician Carl I Hagen, the former Progress Party boss who’s been at the forefront of the conflicts over a new Munch Museum. He’s the one mostly responsible for crushing the waterfront museum called Lambda, in favour of having the Munch Museum take over the soon-to-be-vacated National Gallery downtown.

“It’s Munch we want at the National Gallery site, not Stenersen,” Hagen told Aftenposten, admitting that the Stenersen collection has had poor treatment by city officials.

Many say the Munch collection has, too, and that those responsible for such a national treasure are long overdue in making a decision. The third alternative to the waterfront and National Gallery sites, is to renovate and expand the existing Munch Museum at Tøyen. But this week more local officials joined the chorus of critics when representatives of the tourism industry said tourists simply don’t go to Tøyen because it’s in an “out-of-the-way” location. They still want to see a new landmark building for Munch erected next to the Opera, which attracts thousands of visitors every day.

Up to the city council in November
Hagen isn’t listening to the pleas to reconsider the waterfront site. He thinks the National Gallery site will draw the most tourists, because it’s right downtown, near the Munch murals inside the adjacent University Aula and close to other existing and planned museums. It’s also “within walking distance” of the pier where many cruiseships tie up during the summer, he said.

The issue is due to be presented to the city council in November. Meanwhile, the city has at least agreed to fund celebrations next year of Edvard Munch’s 150th birthday. If the state matches the city’s NOK 5 million in funding, the jubilee reportedly can be carried out according to plan.

“Edvard Munch is our greatest artist,” Hallstein Bjercke, the politician in charge of culture for the city, told news bureau NTB. “His art is more in demand, also internationally, than ever before. It’s therefore especially important to mark this jubilee, visibly and with high quality.”

Munch’s “Scream” painting that fetched more than USD 100 million at auction last spring will go on exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York on October 24, for six months. Munch Museum officials in Oslo reportedly have been asked to send various Munch products, like “Scream” covers for iPhones, T-shirts and postcards, to New York over the next several weeks.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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