Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Art Is a Feather in Tjuvholmen's Cap

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Art Is a Feather in Tjuvholmen's Cap

Article excerpt

The Norweigian capital has become a center of contemporary art.

The Oslo neighborhood of Tjuvholmen is a noisy place these days. Construction trucks rumble past large moving vans while sparks fly from welders soldering metal onto several skeletal structures soon to be loft apartments, office buildings and cafes.

Situated on a peninsula that sticks out into the Oslofjord, Tjuvholmen was historically a shipyard, and while there are still parts that are littered with shipping crates and large boats, the area has been transformed by a multimillion-dollar urban renewal investment.

The openings of art galleries like Peder Lund, Galleri Riis and Stolper and Friends (one of the partners is the A-ha guitarist and artist Magne Furuholmen), have helped the neighborhood gain the reputation of being a "small Chelsea," said Gunnar B. Kvaran, director of the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art.

But the real feather in Tjuvholmen's cap was the opening on Sept. 29 of the Astrup Fearnley -- as it is known on the Oslo contemporary art scene -- designed by Renzo Piano. The private museum had existed in another locale in central Oslo since 1993, financed by foundations set up by descendants of the Fearnley shipping family.

The museum has focused much of its collection on international and American contemporary art. This new location is four times the size of the old site and cost Pounds 70 million to build, about $110 million. Despite its modern look -- it is made of wood and curved glass that covers two buildings separated by a small canal -- it fits in the surroundings.

"The growing consensus is that this building is quite an achievement that works well with the nature and as part of the fjord," Mr. Kvaran said. "This museum now becomes our identity. We now have the possibility to expose the collection, giving us a totally new profile in the city and in the art life of Oslo."

Contemporary art in Oslo is thriving. Norway's economy is booming -- its rich North Sea oil reserves have helped isolate it from the global recession -- and several of its largest companies have been investing in contemporary art collections. Some are focused mainly on Norwegian contemporary art while others also are buying up some of the big names on the international art scene.

Several of the city's most important art institutions, meanwhile - - the Munch Museum, the Stenersen Museum, the Henie Onstad Art Center (HOK) and the Astrup Fearnley -- were private collections that have been opened to the public.

Considering that Oslo has a population of less than 600,000 people means that per capita a significant chunk of the city's modern and contemporary art holdings came through donations by philanthropists and company collections.

"There has been a tradition for donating and giving large collections to the public," said Oystein Ustvedt, an art historian and author of "New Norwegian Art Since 1990." "I think it has to do with this building up of national identity. Norway for so long was very poor so it was important for a few rich people to build up a collection of art."

That idea of building up a national identity through culture -- Norway only became a nation in 1905 -- has played an integral role in Oslo over the past century. Edvard Munch (1863-1944) bequeathed 25,000 of his works to the city when he died, though the Munch Museum did not open until 1963. His friend Rolf E. Stenersen, a stockbroker and art collector, donated a large part of his collection, which consisted of more than 400 prints by Munch and work by such artists as Reidar Aulie, Erling Enger and Sigurd Winge. …

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