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National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo

As Oslo’s new National Museum opens, its director, Karin Hindsbo, explains how she wants to make culture a part of everyone’s life.

June 2022

By Emma O'Kelly / 7th June 2022
National Museum of Norway COURTESY: National Museum / PHOTOGRAPH: Iwan Baan

National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design
COURTESY: National Museum / PHOTOGRAPH: Iwan Baan

WHAT SHOULD YOUR nation’s biggest museum stand for in the twenty-first century? How must it engage with audiences? Where does it fit within the fabric of the city? These are questions Karin Hindsbo, director of Oslo’s National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design is facing in anticipation of the opening of Norway’s biggest treasure trove on Saturday 11th June.

Director Karin Hindsbo, National Museum of Norway COURTESY: National Museum / PHOTOGRAPH: Ina Wesenberg

Director Karin Hindsbo, National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design
COURTESY: National Museum / PHOTOGRAPH: Ina Wesenberg

Bringing together some 400,000 art works from Norway and abroad, the 54,600m2, 500bn Norwegian krone space will be the largest museum in the Nordic region. Along with the new Munch Museum, which opened at one end of the waterfront in October last year, it cements Oslo’s status as a new global art capital.

At this other end of the waterfront, German architects Kleihues + Schuwerk have created what will become a landmark building, using grey Norwegian slate, Danish woods, glass and marble. “Like all museums, it is designed to stand the test of time,” explains Hindsbo. “And like a wine, it will get better with age.”

National Museum of Norway, Collection COURTESY: National Museum / PHOTOGRAPH: Iwan Baan

National Museum of Norway, Collection
COURTESY: National Museum / PHOTOGRAPH: Iwan Baan

There will be a fittingly grand opening – 6,500 works spanning 87 rooms go on show in a Collection Exhibition that aims to address Norwegian history and identity, nature and romanticism. Key to the museum’s ethos and strategy has been the mixing of art works across categories and historical periods, with dialogue created between different parts of the collection: ranging from the paintings of Harriet Backer to Hannah Ryggen’s textiles; from the medieval Baldishol tapestry to Tonje Plur’s contemporary fashion,

National Museum of Norway, Collection COURTESY: National Museum / PHOTOGRAPH: Iwan Baan

National Museum of Norway, Collection
COURTESY: National Museum / PHOTOGRAPH: Iwan Baan

“We have delved deep into the collection to work out which stories must be told, and which pieces should be shown,” says Hindsbo. “It’s not easy. You only open a national museum once, so should you go for a big international manifestation, or focus on what you’ve missed over the years?”

Gustav Gaudernack, ‘Dragonfly Bowl’, 1908 COURTESY: Annar Bjørgli / National Museum

Gustav Gaudernack, ‘Dragonfly Bowl’, 1908
COURTESY: Annar Bjørgli / National Museum

She has opted for a bit of both. The second floor is dedicated to visual arts from the Renaissance onwards and includes a black-walled Munch gallery where the first version of ‘The Scream’, created in 1893, is on permanent display. Debuting in the stunning Light Hall is a show of works by 150 contemporary artists who live in Norway. Meanwhile, Norwegian stars such as Nikolai Astrup, Edvard Munch, Harald Sohlberg and architect Sverre Fehn appear alongside Chinese imperial porcelain, Murano glass and royal gowns worn by Norway’s queens.

National Museum of Norway, Collection COURTESY: National Museum / PHOTOGRAPH: Iwan Baan

National Museum of Norway, Collection
COURTESY: National Museum / PHOTOGRAPH: Iwan Baan

It aims to offer a comprehensive survey of the artistic landscape in the country today, but Hindsbo is also keen to celebrate lesser known and female artists. In the lobby is ‘Pile o’Sápmi’, a work by Sami artist Máret Ánne Sara that criticises Norway’s forced annual reindeer cull. For the past four years, Hindsbo has been “seeking out pieces by minorities across all disciplines. But this is not easy. Most are in private hands. We are doing a lot of research.”

Máret Ánne Sara, ‘Pile o' Sápmi’, 2016 COURTESY: Annar Bjørgli / National Museum

Máret Ánne Sara, ‘Pile o’ Sápmi’, 2016
COURTESY: Annar Bjørgli / National Museum

In anticipation of its 750,000 visitors a year, (60 per cent of whom are expected to be Norwegian), the National Museum will offer a range of tours, including a 30-minute pit-stop. When Hindsbo was director of KODE In Bergen (2014-2017) she was credited with modernising the gallery and making it relevant to new audiences. What will she bring to Oslo? “Bergen’s rich cultural life is integrated within the city,” she says. “Its four arts centres place art at its core. That is what we are doing here. We hope to make culture part of everyone’s life.”

National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design

Article by Emma O'Kelly
Article by Emma O'Kelly
Emma O’Kelly is editor at large at Wallpaper* and writes about design, art, architecture and travel for publications such as How To Spend It, Telegraph Luxury and Conde Nast Traveller. View all articles by Emma O'Kelly