Thursday December 12 would have been Edvard Munch’s 150th birthday, and it was being celebrated near the farm where the famed Norwegian artist was born in Løten, Hedmark County. The festivities ended a jubilee year that featured the most successful and popular exhibit of Munch’s art ever.
Officials at the otherwise long-troubled Munch Museum in Oslo were clearly relieved that the jubilee was ending on a high note. “We’ve had a fantastic, fine year of celebrations,” the Munch Museum’s director, Stein Olav Henrichsen, told newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday. “But it has also been a demanding year.”
It began amidst budget cuts and threatened layoffs at the museum housing the vast collection of Munch’s own art that he willed to the City of Oslo when he died in 1944. The museum has arguably been too small since the day it finally opened, in 1963, and debate also raged in Oslo over city politicians’ inability to properly care for Munch’s art and agree on construction of a bigger and better museum worthy of the famed artist’s legacy.
The bickering eventually died down when politicians did revive and agree on plans to build a new Munch Museum on the city’s easter waterfront at Bjørvika, near the Opera House. Layoffs at the existing museum were averted and a large Munch exhibition held jointly with the National Gallery opened to rave reviews and record crowds in June. By the time it closed in mid-October, it had attracted around half-a-million visitors and generated a budget surplus of around NOK 7 million.
Henrichsen just returned from Japan, where the artist also was being hailed with an exhibit and celebrations at the Norwegian Embassy in Tokyo. On Thursday, events were wrapping up where Munch’s life began, at the Engelaug Østre farm in Løten, and in the nearby city of Elverum.
The program for the day included a children’s party at the Løten Cultural School, another party for teenagers at Løten Cinema, featuring a theatrical tribute to Munch, and an historical recap at the farm itself. The Munch Center at the Klevfos Industrial Museum was also open and the Munch Museum was hosting a buffet at Løten Station. After a reception at the museum, a special performance was due to begin Thursday evening at Elverum’s Terningen Arena, featuring a speech by author Karl Ove Knausgård, a concert and a show depicting Munch’s life.
The past year has also seen, in addition to more than 200 special events around Norway and abroad, a burst of new books, performances, songs and films about Munch and his art. Now Henrichsen is already looking forward to 2015, when events will start building up again in advance of the opening of the new Munch Museum in 2019. Among the events will be a joint exhibit of Munch and van Gogh’s art, which also will be the largest van Gogh exhibit ever held in Norway.