Modern marvel | Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway - Museums Association

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Modern marvel | Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway

Eleanor Mills hears how the new venue is building on the legacy of the iconic artist
The Munch Museum is a major new landmark on the Oslo skyline ©Adrià Goula

The Norwegian artist Edvard Munch died in 1944 and left his entire estate to the city of Oslo. It was an enormous bequest of almost 28,000 artworks and more than 42,000 objects including texts, letters, photographs, equipment and other personal possessions.

Discussions about a future museum had begun while the painter of The Scream was still alive, but it was only in 1963 that the museum actually opened in the Tøyen district of Oslo. But the building quickly became outdated even after a revamp in 1994. The city council agreed a plan to create a new museum in 2008 and the foundation stone was laid eight years later.

The towering exterior of the 13-storey Munch Museum © Adrià Goula

The 13-storey, 60-metre-high museum, designed by Spanish architects Estudio Herreros, opened to the public last October. It houses the artist’s bequest as well as three other collections – that of the businessman and collector Rolf Stenersen, Norwegian painter Amaldus Nielsen and the Norwegian artist Ludvig Ravensberg. The museum’s opening exhibition showed British artist Tracey Emin’s works next to Munch’s. Emin said: “As an artist, Munch has had the biggest effect on me.”

Here, Stein Olav Henrichsen, the director of the Munch Museum, talks about the importance of honouring the artist and his work.

Stein Olav Henrichsen
Director, Munch Museum
What is the enduring appeal of Edvard Munch?

Stein Olav Henrichsen: He was one of modernism’s most significant artists, and without doubt Norway’s most important contribution to the art world. We continue to see a growing interest in him and his artwork both nationally and internationally. His diversity as an artist and his tenacious experimentation in painting, graphic art, drawing, sculpture, photography and film has given him a unique position.

At the new museum we get to show more Munch than ever before and the collection now gets the place it deserves. Last but not least, we put Munch’s art in context with other contemporary artists to show how relevant he is as an artist today. Our mission is that you should never leave the museum without being moved.

Displays show the richness of Munch’s artistic career Munch Museum
How does the architecture reflect Munch’s work?

Munch is about not accepting conventional rules, about fighting against opposition, about never giving up. The building is there, it has a powerful presence, and it is part of the city. The Spanish architects Estudio Hererros’ design is bold. As Joan Herreros says: “It says ‘here I am. I hold the legacy of the most important artist in Norway’s history, and I gaze entranced at Oslo and the fjord because it is the city and its collective dreams that have built me.’”

Is the museum sustainable? 

The museum has been planned in accordance with the FutureBuilt criteria, which means it must at least halve its greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional modern buildings. Its compact shape, high-quality windows and partially natural ventilation have all helped the building to achieve the desired energy savings.

The building has also been built using low-carbon concrete and recycled steel, and its loadbearing structure should last 200 years. The building also complies with Passivhaus standards – in other words, energy consumption is reduced with the assistance of passive measures such as additional heat recovery, extremely well-insulated windows and excellent insulation. The wavy aluminium panels screen sunlight effectively, and also reflect and refract sunlight to avoid excessive temperature fluctuations.

The building has no parking spaces. Its location very close to the city’s largest public transport hub and 100 bike-parking spaces negates any need to arrive by car. All these measures help to ensure that the museum has a lower energy consumption per square metre than the original building at Tøyen.

Edvard Munch, Solen, 1912-1913 Courtesy Munch Museum
Tell us about your exhibition programme?

We opened with Tracey Emin and Munch, and one of the next exciting exhibitions is a collaboration with the Norwegian black metal band Satyricon. We were in contact with the band in connection with them using Munch’s lithograph The Kiss of Death as the cover image for one of their albums. The museum likes to explore new links to Munch’s art and this project will create an exhibition where music and art are experienced together. Satyricon composes the music, and the museum’s curator selects the works by Munch.

Can you describe the museum’s research?

One of the museum’s most important tasks is to generate and disseminate knowledge about Munch and his art. In addition to traditional research in art history, conservation and collections management, we also do research in areas such as learning, digital communications and audience experiences.

One of the venue’s innovative gallery spaces Munch Museum

Our researchers investigate the significance of Munch’s choice of materials, past conservation measures and the works’ current conditions. The results help us to identify potential methods for preserving Munch’s art for the future. In recent years, a major effort has been undertaken to digitise Munch’s writings and correspondence, in addition to translating his writings into other languages including English.

Easier access to Munch’s art and writings has led to an increase in research in Norway and abroad. During the coronavirus crisis, we intensified our work to create digital art experiences for people who cannot visit the museum physically, including livestreams, digital workshops, guided tours and online panel debates.

What does the future hold for the museum?

Such notable interest in Edvard Munch means that we can lend works to renowned art institutions worldwide, and that in turn – with the new museum’s facilities – means we can borrow artworks and bring art to Norway that has never been shown here before.

Project data
2.7bn Norwegian kroner (£227m)
Main funders
City of Oslo with support from the Norwegian state
Estudio Herreros
Exhibition design
Manthey Kula
Graphic design
North Design London; Munch Museum
Technical drawings
North: Endpoint
Sandra Mujinga, until 3 April; The Savage Eye, until 8 May; Satyricon & Munch, 30 April–28 August
Adult 160 NOK (£13.50)

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