Openings Controversies Norway

Munch plans in disarray amid political row

Museum relocation deadlocked as city parliament splits over controversial design

Stein Olav Henrichsen, the director of the Munch Museum, on Oslo’s waterfront

The plans for a new high-rise building on Oslo’s waterfront to house the Munch Museum have been thrown into disarray after the city parliament rejected plans for the project at the end of September. Following local elections, there is no longer a political majority in favour of building “Lambda”, as it is known, which was originally due to be completed in 2014. Carl Hagen, the head of the Fremskrittspartiet (Progress Party, FrP), says: “Lambda is history now. We have to leave it behind and start from scratch.”

Stein Olav Henrichsen, the director of the museum, which is currently located in the Tøyen district of the city, says that he is not worried by the setback. “Of course it is difficult to realise such a big project, but the decision to relocate the museum is still valid and I am sure Lambda will be built,” he says. Torger Ødegaard, the city’s commissioner for culture, expects the small Kristelig Folkeparti (Christian People’s Party) to provide the two votes needed in the city parliament to approve the plans.

The populist right-wing FrP was so unwilling to support the project that it left the coalition it had previously formed with the Høyre (Conservative) party. It had been expected to work with Høyre and Venstre (the Liberals) to approve the plans.

Hagen says Lambda’s high cost is the major reason for rejecting the project, which the FrP supported before he became the party’s leader. “Lambda is megalomania,” he says. “It would cost up to NKr4bn [over €500m], money that could be invested in more hospital beds or better care for the elderly.”

Hilde Sandvik of the Norwegian daily newspaper Bergens Tidende has called the situation “a provincial farce”. Referring to the significance of Edvard Munch, she says: “Unfortunately, his heritage of more than 23,000 works was given to the municipality of Oslo, which, notoriously, has proved unable to take care of it.” Munch bequeathed his works to the city but the Munch Museum did not open until 1963, 19 years after his death. The Scream, 1893, and Madonna, 1894-95, were stolen in August 2004 and recovered two years later.

In March 2009, the Spanish architectural firm Herreros won an international competition to design the museum. Its plan for a 14-storey building has been criticised by the Riksantikvaren (Norway’s Directorate for Cultural Heritage) and by artists.

After the Riksantikvaren approved the proposals on the condition that changes were made, another vote in the city parliament was required, which was defeated when the FrP voted against the plans.

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