Oslo opens massive, custom-built Munch art museum; 26,000 artworks hosted include The Scream and Madonna-Art-and-culture News, Firstpost

Gone is the dilapidated and poorly secured old Munch Museum on the outskirts of the Norwegian capital – from where a version of The Scream and another masterpiece, Madonna, were stolen by armed robbers in 2004.

Munch’s most famous work, ‘The Scream’, is moving to a new, safer home (AFP/Terje Pedersen)

Today, more than 26,000 works from the expressionist master’s “family”, including his best-known piece, The Scream — have moved under one roof into the enormous custom-built MUNCH museum on the shores of the Oslo Fjord.

Gone is the old, dilapidated and poorly secured Munch Museum on the outskirts of the Norwegian capital – hence a version of The Scream and another masterpiece, Madonnawere stolen by armed robbers in 2004.

On Friday, the new museum opens its doors to the public in the heart of Oslo, in a luxurious and spacious modernist building that has sparked much controversy.

“It is perhaps the biggest museum for a single artist,” says museum director Stein Olav Henrichsen during a tour of the building.

With 13 floors covering more than 26,000 square meters (280,000 square feet), the new building offers five times more exhibition space than the gloomy museum that until now housed Norway’s national treasure.

Single without children, Munch (1863-1944) bequeathed his work to the city of Oslo. He originally planned to leave it to the Norwegian state, but changed his will at the last minute to prevent the art from falling into unwanted hands.

degenerate art

At the time, Norway was occupied by the Nazis, who considered the pioneer of Expressionism a creator of “degenerate art”.

Rising from the shore of the fjord and next to the city’s iconic opera house, the new museum aims to right a historic injustice by finally giving the world-renowned artist the building his admirers believe his work deserves.

Half a million visitors are expected each year – and the museum is hoping for more than a million – to see the 200 works on permanent display in 4,500 square meters.

Among some of the darker recurring themes like angst, despair, and death, there are less depressing themes that explore love, self-portraiture, and landscapes. Pale, sickly naked bodies mingle with fiery red strokes depicting locks of hair or sunsets.

Oslo opens huge custom-built Munch art museum hosting 26,000 works of art including The Scream and Madonna

The self-portraits are among the lesser-known works among the 200 pieces on permanent display. The museum houses more than 26,000 works by Munch in total (AFP/Stian Lysberg Solum)

And of course there is The Scream. The museum has several versions of the emblematic work: a painting, a drawing, six lithographs and several sketches.

It also features other masterpieces such as Madonna – both he and the robbed Yell were recovered by the police two years later — Vampire and The sick childas well as some lesser known pieces by Munch.

Among these are sculptures, photographs, a film and two massive paintings – The sun and Researchers — which had to be lifted into the museum during construction through a hole in the facade.

“Munch wanted to have a museum. He talked about his children (referring to) all of his works, and he wanted them to be a collection,” says curator Trine Otte Bak Nielsen. “I think he would be very happy to see what we have done now.”

brutal building

The building itself, nicknamed “Lambda” because its slanted top resembles the letter of the Greek alphabet of the same name, has been the subject of controversy.

That shape has pissed off some, while the bright glass windows promised in the designs are largely hidden under what some say look like monstrous metal shutters.

In 2019, art historian Tommy Sorbo called Oslo’s “pollution” project a “disaster to come”. He maintains this opinion today, “at least for the exterior and the entrance”.

Oslo opens huge custom-built Munch art museum hosting 26,000 works of art including The Scream and Madonna

The new museum offers five times more exhibition space for Munch’s works than the old one it replaces (AFP/Beate Oma Dahle)

“The hall looks like an airport, a warehouse, a hotel or a commercial building,” he told Agence France Presse. “There is absolutely nothing in the choice of colors and materials to indicate that the venue is home to one of the world’s greatest artists.”

Management ignored the criticism, saying the museum should provoke people the same way Munch’s art did back when it was created. “The building is a very good fit for the collection because it’s a monumental building, it’s… a brutal building,” says Henrichsen. “You must actually have an opinion on this.”

So will the much-maligned “metal shutters” be enough to deter thieves?

Over the years, Munch’s works have been the subject of several high-profile heists. Perhaps most spectacular was that daring midday robbery in 2004.

The new museum offers five times more exhibition space for Munch’s works than the old one it replaces.

“It’s probably the safest building in Norway, but you won’t feel it coming here. Security is very tricky and we want to focus on the artistic experience,” Henrichsen said. “I can assure everyone that there will be no theft here.”

Mildred D. Field