Oslo’s Artistic Highlights: featuring Vigeland and Munch

Welcome to a post inspired by our recent trip to Oslo! Just like a few months back after my expedition to Denmark, we will be featuring a series of blog posts created from the material collected from the trip – And I say we as Alex was my partner in crime this time. I have decided to open with this post as it was one of the features of this Norwegian capital that striked me most. Oslo is full, ridden almost with art galleries and collections of all sorts! In the short span of time we had, there was only so much we could see  (and as you all know Alex and art are not an expected combo). However, I could not leave without seeing works on these 2 iconic artists. From one side of the city to the other – quite literally – I bring you this post, including photos of my own, a couple of videos (excuse my terrible pulse!) as well as reviews when appropriate. I hope you enjoy it!

Vigeland Park

Vigeland Park - at the Monolith
Vigeland Park – at the Monolith

Originally known as Frogner park, this site now is the living work of Gustav Vigeland, dare I say one of the most influential (if not the most) Norwegian sculptors of the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th centuries. Vigeland’s amazing creativity birthed hundreds of creations, including the design for the Nobel Peace Prize. We ought the existence of the park in it current due to the demolishing of Vigeland’s house by the city of Olso in 1921 – after the confrontation between the artist and the city council they provided him with a new building where to work and live. In exchanged he promised that he will donate all his works from there on to the city. Shortly afterwards, Vigeland decided to relocate to the borough of Frogner, where he envisioned the perfect spot for his fountain. He had been thinking for a while on the exhibition of his work in public and out in the open, and so his wishes were granted.

Vigeland's fountain at the centre of the park
Vigeland’s fountain at the centre of the park

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However his installation at Frogner was perhaps his most controversial piece of work. Many of his contemporaries compared his work to that of the Nazis monumental art and aesthetic Arian values. It probably did not help that he did proclaim himself quite happy of the Nazi puppet government in Oslo during the Third Reich.

Walk over the bridge from the fountain to the monumental doors
Walk over the bridge from the fountain to the monumental doors
Statue by the doors of Frogner park of Gustav Vigeland
Statue by the doors of Frogner park of Gustav Vigeland

His old studio and apartment became the Vigeland museum – right next to the park – at the time of his death. That was, after all, the agreement he had reached with the City of Oslo. If you are in Oslo, at any point, the park is really worth a visit – this is just a sample of my pictures there, it is truly otherworldly and such a feat – if I did not know better, I’d say it’s the work of giants.

Nasjonalgalleriet – ascending to Vigeland and Munch

This stop is compulsory – you must visit the National Gallery at Oslo. The National Gallery is part of the huge complex known as the Nasjonalmuseet, which encompasses several buildings, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, all part of the concept behind the National Museum. The permanent exhibition at the National Gallery is called the Dance of Life (after Munch’s work), and also it is not massive, it includes pieces that you’d struggle to find elsewhere. In addition, I would like to say that the conceptualization of the pieces was very well achieved, just like I felt at the National Gallery in Copenhagen. The exhibition is divided in 4 sections: art from the antiquity to the baroque, Romanticism, from impressionism to Munch, culminating with modernism until the 1950s. I will give you a brief look of the pieces I found that I appreciated most – after all, art is personal.

The amazing icons from the Novgorod School! Was not expecting them here. they were absolutly beautiful. This one is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.
The amazing icons from the Novgorod School! Was not expecting them here. they were absolutely beautiful. This one is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

Compulsory multiple shots at the “Masters Room” – this are all the pieces donated to the gallery by Christian Langaard, who was an important art collector without whose contribution, the gallery would have not been able to obtain some of these pieces. He died in 1922, and the room was constitutes in 1924.

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Tapestry from the master tapestry makers of this time period – the Gobelins (France).

 

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I would recognise this anywhere even possibly with my eyes closed – if it’s something I appreciate of my Spanish heritage is the great art produced in Iberia, and this is from El Greco (or someone in his school). Produced 1541-164. Jesus Christ Stripped of his Garments. The art style is something unique, and difficult to reproduce – the man had an issue with his eye sight so his paintings are certainly quirky.

Moving on to the Romanticism, here is a selection of my photographs.
You may recognised this guy from my trip to Denmark - Peder Balke. 6 months later, I am still in love with these landscapes.
You may recognise this guy from my trip to Denmark – Peder Balke. 6 months later, I am still in love with these landscapes.
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IMAG1721_BURST002 Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1857): the hero of Norwegian painting. He was the first Norwegian painter to reach international fame for his work. The smaller piece really got me – the cracks in the paint kind of add to the somber, gothic landscape, like if it was intentional. Age has only helped this painting even more. Dresden by Moonlight (1838).

Now, on to Impressionism and Modernism.

I brought a print of the painting on the right home - it is by Harald Sohlberg: Winter night in the mountains (1914).
I brought a print of the painting on the right home – it is by Harald Sohlberg: Winter night in the mountains (1914).
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This requires no words of course – it is what I came for.

This is a short video at Munch’s room – I know the comment is rather superfluous but it was so quiet, I felt bad just talking normally.

Leaving the museum, I could not skip the Picasso’s and abstract paintings…

Picasso - Guitar and glass 1911.
Picasso – Guitar and glass 1911.

 

Figurative painting would still be strong in Norwegian art even during the period of abstraction - cubism and symbolism would, nonetheless, creep into the hearts of many artists.
Figurative painting would still be strong in Norwegian art even during the period of abstraction – cubism and symbolism would, nonetheless, creep into the hearts of many artists.

 Munch Museum

It saddens me to say that this was the most disappointing visit of the entire trip. And I will explain you why. As you have seen above, the National Gallery is in ownership of Munch’s most famous pieces – he did after all leave all his work to the city of Oslo as part of his testament, so it is the city’s right to dis play the pieces as they may. But Munch was a very prolific artists. He did not only paint, but also practiced wood carvings, print making, and indulged in sketching. He also experimented with photography. So I was aware, there would be a repository for all the rest, at Munch museum. However it appears that the way the gallery there works is the following: they use Munch’s pieces as permanent exhibit, and display them usually in correlation to another artist, highlighting thematic, concepts and evolution – which is wonderful. However, it seems I was unlucky, for the composition during my visit was Mapplethorpe + Munch. Unfortunately for Mr Mapplethorpe, I am not a huge fan, and although I appreciate his work, I failed to agree with the comparisons produced by the gallery. They tried to compare a 1980s photographer with a serious agenda on sexuality, and more precisely homosexuality, with a man who talked about life, and the world around us, and people – and of course touched on the subject of nudity, bodies and sexuality, but nowhere near in the same degree or with the same intention! To my disappointment there was a lot of Mapplethorpe’s work, and little Munch in contrast – Mapplethorpe as a photographer has a huge portfolio, regardless of how many Munch pieces exist. But it was not all bad. I got to see some very interesting pieces – see the photos and video below.

Dance of Death - Munch's lithograph, 1916.
Dance of Death – Munch’s lithograph, 1916.

 

Munch - Mystical Shore print (1897).
Munch – Mystical Shore print (1897).

*I am afraid the video is interrupted as my phone run out of battery! However I thought you ought to see what I could film*

One last thing to show you before I sign off, is the last pieces of Munch’s art which I was hoping to see here. Munch made a series of monumental friezes for the University of Oslo. I thought they would be exposed out in the open – what was my surprised that I had to get in and out of the exhibition twice to realise they were locked behind doors in a conference room! But, in any case, I managed to take a couple of pictures – despite there is a bit of reflection, they are so worth it.

Alma Mater
Alma Mater

 

The Sun - like nothing I've ever seen before.
The Sun – like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

I tried hard to take a good shot of History, but from that angle is was very difficult. I suspect the reason why they are locked has to do with preservation issues, which is a shame because those beauties deserve an entire audience just for themselves.

And with this we come to an end of this first piece on Oslo’s interesting history and heritage. Drop by for some more shortly!

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