The National Museum, Oslo (1)

I have come to Oslo to see its new National Museum, which opened in early June after a long period of design and construction.

The competition for a new building on a new site down by the docks behind the old West Station was held in 2010 and won by a relatively young German architect, Klaus Schuwerk, born in 1967, trained in Stuttgart, Zurich and Madrid and now with offices in Naples and Berlin. As with all such projects, it has taken a long time, approved by the Norwegian parliament in 2013, construction starting in 2014, scheduled to open in 2020, but delayed because of COVID.

It is deliberately and wilfully austere, constructed out of dark Norwegian slate from Oppdal in central Norway, with a luminous, temple-like structure, the Light Hall, made out of translucent marble, for temporary exhibitions.

Room 1 is classical antiquities, drawn from the collections of the former National Gallery, one of several institutions which have been joined up to create the new National Museum – also, a museum of applied arts, part of a museum of architecture and adopting the role of a museum of modern design, as if the V&A, the Design Museum and the National Gallery were compulsory amalgamated.

Room 2 is a gallery of casts, shown as an integral part of the sequence, originally the Kristinia Sculpture Gallery, which itself apparently preceded the National Gallery:-

Then, a sequence of decorative arts galleries, laid out by Italian museum designers, Guicciardini and Magno, beautifully done, with sculpture from Trondheim:-

And wood carving from one of the stave churches:-

It manages the difficult balance of being beautifully laid out and lit, and also lightly didactic – such an amazing privilege to do it all, all-at-once, in a consistent style, everything carefully and freshly considered, a model of how to present a collection:-

Work by Kändler, staggeringly kitsch:-

There’s a small amount of theatre, including a simulated ball at the back of an early nineteenth-century ballroom, and a lot of music – and fashion. It’s a project on the same scale as the British Galleries at the V&A, but a bit lighter in feel, a touch less academic, to its benefit, I think.

As you may have detected, there is a lot to see, far too much for a single visit, so there will be more tomorrow.


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