After years of heated conflict, Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard seems more keen to come to terms with potential neighbours of his controversial “House to Die In.” A public exhibition of new plans for the house in Oslo shows “adjustments” aimed at accommodating neighbours, while Melgaard even is open to building it at another location.
“You can die anywhere, you can never predict that,” Melgaard told newspaper Aftenposten just before the exhibition opened at Tjuvholmen in Oslo earlier this month. It’s due to run through February 25 as “pop-up” event featuring the cooperation Melgaard has had with Oslo-based architecture firm Snøhetta and the Selvaag art collection. Brothers Olav and Frederik Selvaag own not only a substantial art collection but also the large Norwegian real estate investment firm of the same name, which is best known for housing developments and was behind the high-end Tjuvholmen residential and commercial development itself.
There’s been little if any cooperation, however, between Melgaard and those living in an artists’ colony at Ekely in Oslo where the house may be built. Selvaag owns property at Ekely, where Norway’s legendary artist Edvard Munch lived and worked until his death in 1944, and offered a site for Melgaard’s project that combines art, sculpture, residence and workplace. Melgaard’s contemporary art has also been paired with Munch’s at Oslo’s Munch Museum, another factor adding to the selection of Ekely as the site of Melgaard’s project.
Munch’s own home at Ekely was torn down decades ago, but the building where he had his studio still exists. Other artists live in houses nearby, and they’ve been fiercely opposed to Melgaard’s project, claiming it will “disturb” what’s left of Munch’s legacy at the site. Not only will the exterior of Melgaard’s proposed house clash with others in the area, claim opponents, it would be built in a forested area that featured in several Munch paintings. Those living there now simply feel the project will ruin the neighbourhood.
‘Adjustments’ won approval
In late November, however, the city agency in charge of historic preservation (Byantikvaren) approved Melgaard’s “House to Die In.” Janne Wilberg, who carries the title of “Byantikvar,” was positive towards the alterations made to the project and the fact that it would be located outside the preservation area around Munch’s property. She noted that the Selvaag-owned lot where the house would be built is already zoned for residential development, and her office granted dispensation from cultural heritage regulations.
The house, called a “mausoleum” by the unhappy neighbours of the lot, has been described as everything from a space ship or UFO to something out of a science fiction film. It’s meant to be a sculpture that also can serve as accommodation and work space for Melgaard, who moved home from New York to Norway last year. It’s propped up on “pillars” formed as Melgaard’s characteristic depictions of animals. It spreads over 300 square meters (around 3,000 square feet), is inspired by Japanese building techniques and will feature an underground room, studio and spa.
“There have been quite large adjustments made to adapt the project to the reaction that has come in,” benefactor Olav Selvaag told Aftenposten. “We have removed a tower and the house’s placement has been changed so that’s it’s not located inside the historical preservation area.” The interior is not on display, reportedly because details are still unclear. Some areas of the structure won’t allow standing room. Wilberg contends the project has been considerably scaled down, further prompting her decision to approve it.
Ekely artist Per Maning has accused Wilberg of being “tone deaf,” telling newspaper Dagsavisen that “this is a project that affects us all.” He and other neighbours contended late last year that it will be both a “national and international scandal” if Munch’s Ekely is “vandalized” by the project.
Things got so heated that Melgaard, who has had a string of exhibits in Oslo lately, called the neighbours “a gang of losers,” while the “losers” have since filed protests over Wilberg’s approval. It’s not just Ekely’s artists who oppose the project: Art historians, an historic preservation association and even the local children’s day care center have objected as well.
Now Melgaard suggests his comments about his opponents were meant to be humourous. “I’m also just as much a loser,” he told Aftenposten. “But I do think it’s remarkable that artists can be so opposed to construction of a work of art.” He also claims the property would remain accessible to the public, even when the house is there.
If the project is ultimately rejected by authorities, Melgaard said it will be built somewhere else. Olav Selvaag, who’s also involved in financing the project, agreed, saying it’s most important the project be realized. He thinks current plans, though, are best-suited for the Ekely property.
Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, architect and partner in Snøhetta, said he likes all the attention the project has received. “I would actually be a bit disappointed if there hadn’t been any reaction,” Thorsen told Aftenposten. “The worst thing you can do to a project that pushes the limits is not to discuss it. We can also be making a mistake, even though we don’t think so now.”