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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

State steps in with Munch support

After years of quarreling among city officials over construction of a new Munch Museum, the state is finally stepping in with an offer to share costs. The move by Culture Minister Hadia Tajik may end the conflict and get the project back on track.

Hopes were rising Wednesday that a new Munch Museum will indeed be built in Oslo, perhaps this artist's rendition of Spanish architect Herreros' award-winning design for a museum on the waterfront at Bjørvika, PHOTO: Herreros
Hopes were rising Wednesday that a new Munch Museum will indeed be built in Oslo, perhaps this artist’s rendition of Spanish architect Herreros’ award-winning design for a museum on the waterfront at Bjørvika, PHOTO: Herreros Arquitectos

Newspaper Dagbladet reported Wednesday that the state government will offer financial support for a new Munch Museum, but only if and when the quarreling city politicians finally agree on a location for it.

Much of their disagreement has centered on the costs of the three sites proposed – a waterfront location next to the Opera House at Bjørvika, expansion of the existing museum on its site at Tøyen on the city’s east side, and a relocation to the National Gallery downtown after its contents are moved to a new National Museum planned near the city’s western waterfront. The long-proposed site at Bjørvika has been believed by some to be too expensive and extravagant, while the Tøyen and National Gallery alternatives also involve significant costs and may take longer to realize.

If the city officials had received an offer of state funding earlier they may have avoided much of the conflict of the past few years, but Tajik of the Labour Party claims the state had to wait for an actual request from the city government, which is controlled by the opposition Conservative Party. That came earlier this year, when the city government official in charge of  cultural affairs, Hallstein Bjercke, sent an application for economic support and organizational help for both a new Munch Museum and a new main library, also at Bjørvika.

Hadia Tajik, a real minority in the new Norwegian Parliament. PHOTO: Ap
Culture Minister Hadia Tajik of the Labour Party may emerge as the heroine in the drama around the Munch Museum, after saying the state will “gladly” help pay for a new museum once city politicians agree on a location for it. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Dagbladet broke the news that Tajik is willing to help and now may emerge as the political heroine in the Munch drama. That may embarrass both the Progress Party, which has publicly confronted Tajik on cultural issues, and the right-center coalition currently running the city government. Others think Tajik’s involvement can only help resolve the process, and welcome the state’s contribution towards ending a deadlock.

“I have high expectations and am impatient to be allowed to contribute to a new Munch Museum being built in Oslo,” Tajik told Dagbladet. She later confirmed to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that the state “will gladly help pay for a new Munch Museum,” after city government officials admitted that they couldn’t manage to settle the museum conflict themselves.

The actual amount of state funding for the museum will depend on what the city actually seeks in another formal application for financing. Tajik told NRK she would meet with city officials next week to draft plans. She said she “looked forward” to a dialogue with Bjercke, “so that the Munch collections that the City of Oslo owns can be properly exhibited.”

Tajik continued to refrain from saying where she or her state colleagues would prefer to see the museum built, leaving that to the city officials to decide. Her Labour Party colleagues in the city government have favoured the existing Tøyen location, while her Labour Party predecessor Trond Giske was among those initiating the Bjørvika location when he was culture minister several years ago.

Tajik’s support now was welcomed by Munch’s heirs and by management and staff at the existing and deeply troubled Munch Museum. It’s caught in a budget crisis over operations, threatened staff cuts and an emerging scandal over management of the museum and alleged misuse of funding. A hearing was scheduled for Wednesday at which both museum management and the city officials to whom they answer faced grilling by opposition politicians. Speculation has risen over whether museum director Stein Olav Henrichsen will survive the crisis, just as the museum is in the midst worldwide interest in Munch’s art and what’s supposed to be a year of celebrations over the the 150th anniversary of Edvard Munch’s birth.

Henrichsen has said he has no intention of stepping down himself, and he, too, welcomed the news from Tajik on the state’s willingness to fund a new museum. “It’s great that there’s also something nice happening around us,” he told Dagbladet.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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