Norway’s famed Viking Ships Museum was closing its doors on Thursday, and won’t reopen until a new “Museum of the Viking Age” emerges in its place in 2025. It means Norway’s greatest national treasures won’t be seen for nearly five years, and that’s sparked complaints.
“This is extremely problematic,” said Mona Pahle Bjerke, art critic for state broadcaster NRK. “This is our common heritage, and five years is a long time.”
Bjerke thinks the popular museum on the Bygdøy peninsula in Oslo should have been able to remain at least partially open during construction of the new and long-sought facility that will be built around them. So does Member of Parliament Himanshu Gulati of the Progress Party, noting that the state is providing “several hundred million kroner” to finally modernize and expand the Viking Ships Museum.
The museum will also retain its operating budget while losing an estimated NOK 64 million in lost ticket and gift shop revenues next year alone. “I think it sounds very strange that they can close at the same time they get funding for operating revenues,” Gulati told NRK.
The closure also comes after Norway’s new consolidated National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design has been under heavy criticism for having closed its former separate museum sites several years before the new site was due to open. Then the opening of the new site was hit by multiple delays.
Officials at the University of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History, which is responsible for Norway’s more than 1,000-year-old Viking ships, insists closure of the Viking Ships Museum is necessary, not least to protect the iconic Oseberg, Gokstad and Tune ships during the rehabilitation and reconstruction process.
“Ideally we should have been able to keep the ships on exhibit while the work is underway,” Håkon Glørstad, director of the museum, told NRK, “but it’s too complicated given all the logistics and space needed. This is how we had to do it.”
The ancient wooden ships were deemed several years ago to be too fragile to be moved to a new museum once planned for Oslo’s eastern waterfront at Bjørvika. They’ll still need to remain in place while new supportive rigging is built around them, to secure the ships during construction of new adjacent buildings. The rigging will be so large, Glørstad said, that there would be no space for the public in the building where they’ll remain.
Glørstad also stressed that the state has only provided funding for the new building. The University of Oslo itself must absorb the loss of revenues during the five-year closure. “Gulati must have misunderstood,” Glørstad told NRK.
Different strategy than that for new National Museum
He also noted that state government officials “chose a completely new strategy for us than they did for the National Museum.” Newspaper Aftenposten reported earlier this week that the new consolidated National Museum was allowed to retain its annual budget allocation for operations plus moving costs into its large new building on Oslo’s western waterfront at Vestbanen.
Since the new National Museum’s opening was delayed by yet another year, it reportedly was left with a budget surplus of NOK 250 million last year. At the same time, other cultural institutions were clamouring for support during the Corona crisis, even though they did receive as much as NOK 10 billion on a nationwide basis, according to the government’s outgoing Minister of Culture Abid Raja.
The Viking ships themselves, meanwhile, have been in need of funding for better maintenance, and the university had to endure years of delays in obtaining approval and funding for a new facility. The new facility will be able to offer much more extensive display space, historic information and better conditions around the ships themselves, to help preserve them for years to come.