An Art Lover’s Guide To Oslo, Norway

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The opening of two flagship museums in the past 12 months has put Oslo firmly on the map for anyone interested in art history. Together with an attractive new library, the museums are the latest stage in the decades-long transformation of the Oslo waterfront.

If you’re planning a trip to the Norwegian capital, here are the must-see art sights.

National museum

After many years of waiting, Norway’s new National Museum finally opened its doors to the public last month.

The vast Klaus Schuwerk-designed waterfront facility has one major benefit: there’s more room for the public display of the paintings, contemporary art, architecture exhibits, and arts, crafts and design from the national museum’s collection than ever before. So much room, in fact, that the museum has more exhibition space than Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and Bilbao’s Guggenheim.

The first floor focuses on design and crafts, ranging from imperial porcelain to contemporary Norwegian fashion including the royal costume collection. Head upstairs for the vast art collection, arranged chronologically over more than 50 rooms.

The development of Norwegian landscape painting and its role in national identity come under the spotlight, as does the emotional trauma of Edvard Munch. 19th-century French art and its influence on Norwegian art is also showcased.

Munch museum

Whatever you think of the controversial exterior design, the contents of the Munch museum are a comprehensive study into the weird emotionally-charged world of Norway’s most famous artist.

Edvard Munch (1863-1944) suffered a tough childhood with a family that suffered from mental illness, a trauma resulting in his unique creative expression later in life. Munch was known to prefer his work displayed in context. Now that one of the world’s biggest museums dedicated to a single artist is open, Munch has his wish.

Three different versions of his most famous work The Scream are on display, rotating every hour. There’s another—believed to be the original—in the National Museum.

Tracey Emin was one of many artists to be strongly influenced by Munch throughout her lifetime. Although her first major Nordic exhibition The Loneliness of the Soul that opened the museum is now over, her presence remains through her dramatic 29-feet-high sculpture The Mother, now in place outside the museum.

Astrup Fearnley

Modern art fans are also well catered for in Oslo thanks to the Astrup Fearnley Museum. Another architecture highlight on the capital’s waterfront, the privately-owned museum contains one of Europe’s most comprehensive collections of international contemporary art.

Designed by Renzo Piano, the boat-like sloping exterior reflects the area’s maritime heritage. Themes include the young American art scene, American and European pop-art, and 1980’s post-modern appropriation art.

Open until the end of August 2022, a temporary exhibition showcasing the work of textile artist Synnøve Anker Aurdal (1908-2000) features work never before seen in public. Known for combining older craft techniques with modern art influences, Anker Aurdal used threads of copper, glass fiber, nylon, and even metal chains and often weaved words from influential poetry into her work.

Sculpture parks

Oslo’s Vigeland Sculpture Park draws millions of visitors to the leafy Frogner Park every year. The 46-feet-tall monolith depicting 121 intertwined human figures is a highlight of the park and of the entire Norwegian art scene.

While at Vigeland Park, it’s well worth a short detour into the City Museum. A small yet fascinating collection of paintings and photographs showcase the development of Oslo over the centuries.

Elsewhere in the city, the 31 sculptures by international artists set in the woods of Ekeberg Sculpture Park are well worth the short tram ride. Many people take the trip just to see Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali’s Venus de Milo aux tiroirs.

Finally, don’t miss the fairytale-inspired sculptures in the Royal Palace Gardens. Named after future queen Princess Ingrid Alexandra, the sculpture park was designed based on submissions from schoolchildren across Norway.

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