Fjord-side museum would draw most

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A new Munch Museum built next to the Opera House on the Oslo Fjord at Bjørvika would attract twice as many visitors as would a new or expanded building on the museum’s current site at Tøyen. That’s the conclusion of an independent calculation prepared by consulting firm OPAK/Metier for city politicians quarreling over where the museum should be located.

This design for a new Munch Museum on the waterfront next to Oslo’s Opera House, called “Lambda,” won a major architectural competition but later fell victim to quarreling among city politicians. ILLUSTRATION: MIR/Herreros Architectos

Newspaper Aftenposten reported that the OPAK study estimated that the so-called Lambda design for a new Munch Museum at Bjørvika would attract around 500,000 visitors a year. That compares to an estimated 200,000-220,000 visitors to a new museum at Tøyen and 200,000-300,000 visitors to a new Munch Museum at a third alternative location at the site of Norway’s existing National Gallery in downtown Oslo.

The existing Munch Museum at Tøyen currently attracts around 125,000 visitors a year, probably more this year and next because of special exhibits mounted in connection with artist Edvard Munch’s 150th birthday celebrations. It long been considered run-down and much too small to properly house and display the vast and invaluable collection of Munch’s art that Munch himself willed to the city.

The museum’s location has always been a political issue and both the Labour and Socialist Left (SV) parties are fighting hard to keep the Munch Museum at Tøyen, traditionally a working-class area that  was seen as needing a major cultural institution. Despite Munch’s vast international popularity, though, the Munch Museum has never been a major magnet for either Norwegians or tourists.

Opera effect
Politicians from both the Conservative and Liberal parties think Munch’s art deserves a new landmark building on the waterfront at Bjørvika, which is undergoing major redevelopment. The proposed site is adjacent to the wildly popular Opera House, which became an instant landmark and tourist magnet itself when it opened in 2008. The Norwegian Opera & Ballet’s move from the old theater used for decades to the new Opera House also led to a huge increase in ticket demand.

Proponents of the Bjørvika location think the same thing will happen with a new Munch Museum, and now have support from the OPAK calculations. Politicians from Labour and SV were quick to criticize OPAK’s figures, though, claiming that no one can be sure about prospective visitor numbers.

The conservative Progress Party, meanwhile, continues to promote the National Gallery location after withdrawing initial support for Bjørvika when it failed to be included in the Conservatives-led city government. Officials at the Munch Museum, meanwhile, claim they mostly just want a decision to be made soon.

‘A lot of attention’
“There’s a lot of attention on the museum these days,” Munch Museum director Stein Olav Henrichsen told reporters just before the new Modern Eye exhibit opened at the existing museum this week. He said the museum staff must be “careful” not to interfere in the political process behind a new museum location, but noted “we were very happy with the fjord (waterfront) project,” not least since it can be completed the most quickly.

Building a new museum, Henrichsen said, will likely take seven to eight years but much of the groundwork on the Lambda/waterfront project has already been completed during the past three years. He said that means it could open as early as 2016, if it wins approval this fall. The other sites wouldn’t be able to open until 2020 or 2022.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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