CHRISTIAN GRØVLEN and STEIN OLAV HENDRICHSEN explain the importance of Norway’s national icons in shaking off Swedish rule…
Creativity, perhaps, doesn’t obey numbers. And maybe that’s why Norway, a country of just five million inhabitants, has produced such a vast quantity of world-renowned artists, authors and playwrights. Henrik Ibsen rules the theatre and, over a hundred years on from their pivotal role forging a ‘national cultural language’, it’s two Edvards – Grieg and Munch – who continue to rule the music and artistic roosts. These artists draw out our common human experience, making us aware of the challenges we all face. Their angst is existential. And, spending time in the country, it’s clearly something the Norwegians take seriously, with little hint of playfulness.
Touring the Munch Museum in Oslo (the new building opened at the end of last year), curator Stein Olav Henrichsen tells me Munch paints his feelings, but not his biography. “We have four floors”, he explains, “but one floor is a thematic introduction to the ‘basics’ of his work”. We look out to the Opera House below and, over the water, to the brand-new Nasjonalmuseet… like buses, after years of stagnation, two new architectural wonders have come along at once.
“We look out to the Opera House below and, over the water, to the brand-new Nasjonalmuseet… like buses, after years of stagnation, two new architectural wonders have come along at once.”
These are statements, clearly, and this building is a bastion of Munch not only for the Norwegian nation, but for the world. This is, staff believe, the most visited museum in the Nordic region, and items from the collection are frequently unhung and sent to exhibitions across the world.
The Munch Museum also display exhibitions from artists inspired by Munch, often incorporating music and other art forms. Phoning me on the road, pianist Christian Grøvlen (director of the Troldhaugen in Bergen, Grieg’s former home) says Grieg shares Munch’s international importance. “Grieg built his life’s work on folk music,” he explains, “which allowed Norwegians to find their identity again, after years of occupation from Denmark and Sweden.” Little wonder, then, Troldhaugen is a much-visited gem. Henrichsen tells me just 5 per cent of the population say they’re reluctant to visit an art gallery or museum, and with those numbers, it’s clear Norway’s creative endeavours, from the top down, show no signs of slowing.
CHRISTIAN GRØVLEN is a pianist and Grieg expert.
STEIN OLAV HENDRICHSEN is the director of Oslo’s Munch Museum.
This article is a Fika Online exclusive.