The Munch Museum in Oslo
Edvard Munch, one of Norway’s greatest painters have gotten a new museum in Oslo, and last week I paid it a visit.
Even though you might not be familiar with Munch, I bet you’ve seen his most famous painting called Skrik (The Scream). Its become an icon in the art world, and is one of the most valuable paintings in history. One edition of the Scream was sold in 2012 for a whopping US$119,922,500…
Munch was an early representative for expressionism, and is without doubt today the most internationally known painter that Norway has.
Up until recently, the Munch Museum was situated in Tøyen, a neighborhood on the east side of Oslo. But on the 22nd of October 2021, a new Munch Museum opened downtown in the area of Bjørvika, just next to the Opera House. All 28.000 pieces of Munch art has been moved to the new location, and there has been a lot of excitement (and controversy) around the new museum.
The Architect of the Munch Museum
The Architecture competition for the museum was won in 2009 by the Spanish architect Juan Herreros and his architecture firm estudio Herreros. The new museum is obviously inspired by a building they designed in 2005: the Woermann Tower (aka Lambda), situated in Las Palmas – Gran Canaria.
In the city council in Oslo, there was a lot of back and forth concerning the funding of the new Munch museum, and at one point in 2011, the city council actually voted to end the whole project. However, a new city council in 2013 secured a majority and therefor the funding was secured and the construction started in September 2015.
There has been some controversy concerning the new Munch museum, and especially the contrast between the illustration that estudio Herreros presented and the final result. As you can see, the building has gotten a much “darker” appearance, and does not appear as bright and luminous as on the illustration. This was due to a change of building material on the facade, changing from glass to perforated aluminium plates. This was apparently more climate friendly, had a lower risk score, but perhaps most importantly it had a lower cost. Would estudio Herreras have won the competition with the way the Munch museum appears today? This is a question many are asking themselves these days… And actually, the leader of the Jury that chose estudio Herreros have said “probably not”…
I’ll leave the controversies for now, and here are a few more photos of the exterior of the museum. Click on the images for larger pictures.
Inside the Munch Museum
Let’s head inside!
Munch wrote in his testament that he gave away all of his work to the Oslo Municipality. This includes about 1 100 paintings, 700 graphical prints, 4 700 drawings, and 6 sculptures. In addition you’ll find 500 print plates, 2 240 books, documents, photografies, tools, furniture and more. All though some of his work today is on private hands, the museum is in possession of more than half of everything he made. The Munch Museum is actually the largest museum in the world dedicated to just one artist.
The Munch Museum has over 200 works of Munch on a permanent display. There are 11 galleries, and a total of 4 500 square metres of gallery space divided between 13 floors. In addition there are works by other Modernist and contemporary artists in dialogue with Munch.
Some larger works, such as Alma Mater and The Sun (below), have gotten their own room with plenty of space to enjoy these magnificent paintings.
As I’ve seen in other Munch exhibitions, his paintings are categorized in different themes such as Death, Naked, Oneself etc. This makes sense since Munch explored many different sides of humanity throughout his artistic career. I was fortunate to tour the museum with an authorized museum guide, something that certainly adds to the experience.
The same gallery is showing his most notable works including Madonna, The Scream and the Sick Child, also together with many of his self-portraits. On display are also three different versions of The Scream. To make sure that The Scream is not over exposed to light, the three versions are showed at different intervals throughout the day.
Other artists in the Munch Museum
A central idea of the new Munch Museum is to show his work in dialogue with other artists. First artist out is the British artist Tracey Emin, showing how Munch has influenced and shaped her work over several decades.
“The exhibition focuses on Emin’s works in painting, sculpture and neon text over the past decade. In addition, Emin has personally selected 16 works by Munch to be displayed alongside her own work.” (www.munchmuseet.no/en/)
Personally I find this an interesting part of the museum, and a great way for other artists to show how Munch has influenced their own career. Munch’s paintings were quite controversial in his time, today many of the works by Tracey Emin will have the same effect on the audience. Even though they have a quite different expression, you’ll find many similarities with Munch.
The view from the Munch Museum
Let’s be honest, for many visitors the great views are a big part of the experience. From the top floors you find excellent views of Oslo, and it’s exciting to see the Opera House, Barcode and other parts of town from a whole new perspective.
Some final thoughts about the Munch Museum
There are many opinions about the new Munch Museum in Oslo. Some find it ugly and misplaced, others see it as a fascinating building making up a great monument for Norway’s most well known painter. The debate will probably continue for quite a while..
The architecture aside, I think the museum does a good job at showing Munch’s art. The galleries are well organized and laid out. But since this will be a major tourist attraction with many visitors, some of the galleries could probably have been a bit more spacious. However, all over I think the museum gives the visitor a good Munch experience. And I would definitely recommend a visit next time you travel to Oslo.
This article was merely a scratch on the surface of Munch himself and his works. And I plan on giving a more comprehensive guide to Munch’s life and his art in some future articles. Stay tuned for more!
I’ve posted links to a couple of my favorite Munch books below. I hope you enjoyed this article, tusen takk for reading!
Learn more about Edvard Munch
Munch – By Ulrich Bischoff
Covering Munch’s staggering capacity for psychodrama in The Scream and beyond.