Controversial Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard has finally commented on the protests lodged by fellow artists who don’t want his House to Die In as their new neighbour. Melgaard summarily dismissed them all as a “a gang of losers” who should mind their own business.
That’s exactly what they contend they’re doing, as they rally to block construction of Melgaard’s unusual house where he reportedly plans to work and live until his death. The house project at Ekely in Oslo, where Edvard Munch also lived in his time, has been brewing for several years and has won approval from various local authorities.
The problem is that the area at Ekely, which now serves as an artists’ colony, was put under historic preservation orders as early as 1997. Munch painted several of his most well-known motifs from the site, and the artists living there now claim Melgaard’s residential art project violates the preservation order. They also don’t think the structure itself, to be built in cooperation with famed Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta, fits into the area.
Melgaard, in Oslo for the opening of a gallery exhibition of other works, scoffed at both them and their protests on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s Kulturnytt radio program Tuesday morning. In addition to calling his prospective neighbours “losers,” he also scoffed at suggestions that his plans, which include a pool under his new house, would pose a hazard to children playing in the area.
“I’m not interested in children, I don’t like children,” Melgaard told NRK. “And if they (local residents) are going to have their children there, they need to mind them.”
One of the current Ekely residents who has complained about Melgaard’s project, sculptor Kirsten Kokkin, thinks Melgaard is acting like a child himself who isn’t getting his way. “Shall he set himself over those living at Ekely?” she queried rhetorically on NRK. “Shall he assert his own importance over Munch’s?” Kokkin said she thinks Melgaard’s house project is “exciting,” but “completely out of place” at Ekely.
Another Ekely resident, artist and photographer Per Maning, objects to any house of any kind being built on the grounds of Munch’s former home that he believes must be preserved. It’s all that’s left, Maning has noted, of Munch’s world where only the famed artist’s studio remains since his wooden house was controversially torn down in the post-war years. Munch himself died at Ekely in 1944.
Melgaard was unrelenting, noting that Maning was only complaining in order “to grab attention around his own gruesome photos.” Maning, otherwise regarded as a prominent photographer in the Nordic countries, refused to take that remark seriously.
“Bjarne Melgaard is a good artist, perhaps one of the best known internationally today,” Maning told NRK. “But there are many other Norwegians who also are known. And if I’m going to be mean, too, I will say that his time is now over.”
Art critic Lars Elton, meanwhile, wrote in newspaper Dagsavisen on Tuesday that Melgaard, fresh from a major conflict with customs officials in Oslo who didn’t view some of his newly arrived pictures as art, has had a tough couple of years recently. He became embroiled in a debate over allegedly pornographic works when some of his work was paired with Munch’s at Oslo’s Munch Museum and then he provoked critics with an exhibit of works with texts like “I hate people” and “This is what I do to make money.”
Elton wrote that he rarely brings in “private” aspects of artists’ lives, but noted that even gallery personnel in Oslo felt compelled to mention that Melgaard’s father recently died, his mother suffered a stroke, his dog died and his lover left him. “That says something about the background for his pictures, but even more about his position,” Elton wrote in Dagsavisen, adding that sales have lagged lately as well. Melgaard’s new exhibit at Galleri Fineart, however, contains “a freshness we haven’t seen for a while,” according to Elton. A new large book is also out featuring Melgaard’s works and an overview of his career.