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The new Munch Museum Oslo

Ute Strimmer
Oslo

Since the end of October 2021, the world’s largest collection of works from the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch has been displayed in the new Munch Museum in Oslo, designed by estudio Herreros.

The world's largest collection of works from the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch is displayed in the new Munch Museum in Oslo, designed by estudio Herreros. (c) Einar Aslaksen

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The new Munch Museum, which opened in Oslo in October 2021 after five years of construction, houses more than 26,000 works of the Norwegian painter and graphic artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944). When Munch died in 1944, he bequeathed his works to the city of Oslo. It is the largest museum in the world dedicated to a single artist. The Spanish architectural firm estudio Herreros designed the building, which preserves and presents Edvard Munch’s cultural heritage.

Artworks in a High-Rise Building

The Munch Museum in the new Bjørvika district east of Oslo’s city center is considered a showcase project. It has been created through interdisciplinary collaboration. All in all over 100 technical consultants, museum experts and designers were involved in the project. Landmarks such as the Oslo Opera House (Snøhetta) and the Deichman Library (Lund Hagem Architect and Atelier Oslo) are also located in the immediate vicinity of the museum.

The winner of the architectural competition for the new Munch Museum in 2009 was the design by estudio Herreros. The Madrid-based architectural firm finally prevailed against Christ & Gantenbein (Basel) and REX Architects (New York), among others. Of all the projects, estudio Herreros’ design was the only one with a vertical orientation. Above a mighty plinth 12 storeys rise to a height of sixty meters. The top of the geometric building is inclined like a lambda, the eleventh letter of the Greek alphabet. The horizontally structured façade of the building is clad with perforated aluminum panes. They are intended to serve as translucent sun protection and prevent temperature fluctuations in the interior spaces.

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Munch Museum in Oslo: Large rooms for monumental paintings

The eleven column-free exhibition galleries for permanent and temporary exhibitions spread over 13 floors in sum. “We have so many possibilities in this building,” says museum director Stein Olav Henrichsen. For over 50 years, the collection bequeathed to the city by Edvard Munch was housed in cramped quarters of the old Munch Museum in Tøyen. This is a residential area in the central parts of Oslo. Now, the new premises offer ten times more wall space and more rooms of different sizes.

For special artworks, the architects of estudio Herreros designed a gallery with double-height ceilings.  Thanks to a slot in the outer wall, large formats that do not fit into the lift can be transported into the museum by crane. Some exhibition rooms are even conveniently connected directly to the depot via lifts. The new building is intended as a tourist attraction too. The terrace allows panoramic views from the 13th floor and can be enjoyed without an admission ticket. A glass lift leads up to the viewing platform.

The Munch Museum: a new meeting and attraction point in Oslo?

The Munch Museum shall be a new cultural centre in Oslo: Concerts, literary readings and other cultural events or painting workshops and furthermore activities for children will take place there. Architect Jens Richter, who runs estudio Herreros together with Juan Herreros, is convinced: “Contemporary museums shall not only present and store their collections. They should also be meeting places and points of attraction for a city. The Munch Museum shall not only be a place for visitors who come to Oslo on a cruise ship to see ‘The Scream’. It shall be a place for all people in the city. Architecture can generate openness and transparency through structural means. It starts with the fact that the building connects well with the urban space. And continues with a ground floor that really invites people to come in.”

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Iconic works in Oslo

The Munch Museum, however, is not without controversy. Due to its rather prominent architecture and its prominent location right next to the Opera House at Oslo Harbour, there has been much political debate. The building project was, for example, halted for three years in order to consider alternatives such as an extension of the old Munch Museum. And with its characteristic bend towards the city centre the L-shaped Munch Museum is conspicuous in the cityscape from afar. “We knew it was a risk to propose a vertical museum,” explains Juan Herreros. “It’s conceived as an institution open to the city and visible from afar, which needs to be visited many times because of its dynamic offers, but also because of its power as a place of concentration.”

Actually, the museum should have opened long ago. But due to the Corona pandemic, there were delays in the delivery of fire and security doors. In addition, the indoor climate system had not yet been sufficiently tested. “The Scream” (1893), “The Self-Portrait” (1895) and the large-format mural “The Sun” (1911) are just a few iconic works by Edvard Munch on display. At last, Munch, the representative of Symbolism is considered a pioneer of Expressionist Modernism.

Interested in more stories about Oslo? Read here about the Seaside Sauna.

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