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More Than Fjords: A New Museum to Put Oslo on the Map

OSLO, Norway — For decades, Oslo lived in the shadow of Scandinavia’s two other capitals, Stockholm and Copenhagen, Denmark. The Norwegian city, alongside a picturesque fjord dotted with rugged islands, has often been derided as sleepy and overpriced, or as a mere stopping-off point for tourists heading into the Norwegian mountains or boarding a cruise along the coast.


In recent years, Norwegian and municipal authorities have spent hundreds of millions trying to change that view. As part of a redevelopment project known as “Fjord City,” leaders have transformed the Oslo waterfront into a glossy district of high-rises and pedestrian plazas dotted with swimming spots and cultural amenities, including its now-famous opera house and the towering new home of the Munch Museum, dedicated to Norwegian painter Edvard Munch.


On Saturday, after years of delay and dispute, the most ambitious of these projects finally opened its doors: the country’s new National Museum, a gargantuan building covered in gray slate that holds the collections of four now-combined arts institutions chronicling the country’s artistic heritage. It is the Nordic region’s largest museum.


Officials hope it heralds Oslo’s transformation into a global cultural capital. “Norway is so much more than fjords and mountains, and I think that will actually be a surprise for people when they visit,” said the museum’s director, Karin Hindsbo. “I’m bragging, but it’s true.”


The 6,500 items on show in the National Museum include perhaps the best-known Norwegian artwork, Munch’s “The Scream,” as well as stylish exhibitions of Viking drinking horns, medieval tapestries and modern Norwegian furniture design. The museum also includes what Ingvild Krogvig, a curator focused on contemporary art, described as the first permanent overview exhibition of postwar Norwegian art in an Oslo museum. Krogvig said that organizers had assembled the collection with the goal of spurring a discussion around the country’s artistic canon. “Maybe there is now more confidence that we are part of the international discourse,” she said.


At times, the project has been overshadowed by public disputes. The opening was delayed from 2020 by problems with subcontractors, drawing anger from many residents who had already spent many years without access to the museum’s collections; Klaus Schuwerk, the building’s architect, has publicly bristled at the museum staff’s interior design and choice of signage. In an interview with NRK, Norway’s public broadcaster, he derisively described the setup of the inaugural contemporary art show as resembling a “flea market.”


Raymond Johansen, Oslo’s governing mayor, said that he was optimistic that the criticism of the Munch project would abate. “The Munch Museum will become a landmark, but it will and must take time,” he said, adding that the opening of the National Museum and the other Fjord City cultural projects were “a lift for the municipality because it’s important to be a visible cultural capital.”


“We are doing our utmost,” he said, “to put Oslo on the international map.”

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