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Oslo: Scandinavia’s Art Capital
March 14, 2018
Oslo might not be the first place you would think of for an art-packed city break. In fact, it might not even be the Scandinavian capital with the most famous art credentials (Copenhagen, anyone?) But after a little digging, you can find a nation of art lovers who historically have made art that can compete with any other nations from the last 300 years in terms of quality. The city also has lesser-known collections that contain the best in global contemporary art. Oslo is home to some of the chicest galleries – along with hotels, bars and restaurants in Europe. The smarter older brother of Copenhagen, and the more culturally aware sister of Stockholm, Norway is tipped to soon be an art lovers paradise when its new national museum complex opens in 2020. In the mean time, Candid provides the perfect itinerary for 24 hours in city for art lovers, complete with a round up of exhibitions to see at the moment.
The first stop for any fan of modernist architecture has to be the Oslo Opera House. Opened in 2008, the 400,000 square foot modernist gem looks like an iceberg ascending from the fjord and the surrounding business district. Covered in gleaming white Carrara marble from Italy, its worth the trip even if you don’t venture inside – instead join the crowds and climb the roof for stunning panoramic city views.
Oslo’s most famous art museum is undoubtedly the National Gallery. Located behind the National Theatre’s historic square, this small but perfectly formed jewel of a museum charts world art, from antiquity through to renaissance and arriving at modernity. Each chronological room has been carefully curated with ten or so works to provide an idea of the key movement’s concepts. The gallery helps expunge the idea that Nordic artists between the 19th and 20th centuries were second rate in their application of symbolism, romanticism and expressionist art. Works by artists including Johan Christian Dahl, Christian Krohg and Adolph Tidemand showcasing the country’s best painters.
There is also the infamous Munch room, where one of four original versions of Edvard Munch’s Scream painting is on display. Offering a glimpse in to the desperately despairing mind of Norway’s most famous artist, the room commands time equal to that of the rest of the museum.
And until May 2018 the National gallery is showing Faithless Pictures, an exhibition that explores the complex relationship between image and reality in the works of forty artists from the last forty years. The tightly curated show highlights the country’s quest for modernity in art, and life.
The Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art located on the fjord water’s edge in Oslo, has been open since 1993. Housed in a striking glass triangle said to evoke a ship, the building was designed by the same designer as the Shard; Renzo Piano – and is often said to be as much of an artwork as any it houses. Inside, the collection of modern art has grown from the private family’s initial endowment to include 20th and 21st century works by important international artists. Highlights include Jeff Koons’ kitsch sculpture masterpiece of Michael Jackson and his pet monkey Bubbles, a Manga-inspired fibreglass doll by the Japanese inventor of the ‘Super-Flat’ style; Takashi Murakami and Gilbert & George’s iconic photo-print screens. It’s a tick-list of work’s necessary in any fashionable contemporary collection.
The museum is currently hosting an exhibition of absurdly playful, large-scale video installation works by the duo Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin (open until May 2018). Providing another example of Norwegian-style design ethos, the museum is intellectually planned, filled with light and air, and even boasts an outdoor sculpture park and a beach – for the (rarer) warmer months.
The Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo famously claims to be city’s most visited attraction – a telling sign of how Norwegians like to spend their free time. The space is the world’s largest sculpture park dedicated to a single artist – it displays the life’s work of Gustav Vigeland, who sadly remains little known outside of Norway. His work is bold and striking, in bronze, granite and iron, and fills the huge space which opened in 1947, four years after his death. The breadth of work highlights how 20th century Norwegian artists equally matched their Southern-European counterparts in France, Britain, Spain and Italy – despite not receiving the same level of acclaim.
It also hints at how in Scandinavian countries – where the outdoors are dangerous and the extreme weather has such an impact on how people are able to live their lives – art and nature are deeply intwined. Until the May 13, the sculpture park is exhibiting a new series of site-specific works by the young Norwegian sculptor Aurora Passero. Her marble-white religious-esque figurative sculptures prove there is still a great deal of creative talent coming from the city’s art schools that deserves more attention than it gets.
For a city so preoccupied with aesthetics, it comes as no surprise that their most famous hotel has its own world-class art collection. The Thief is a hotel owned by Norway’s answer to Charles Saatchi, the self-made millionaire and art collector Petter A. Stordalen, and he uses the angular, modernist, brutalist glass building on the city’s recently rejuvenated waterfront to display his own contemporary art purchases. Guests, before even greeting a member of staff, are met by Jeff Koons’ sculptures, Anthony Gormley’s Bronzes and a monumental Richard Prince photo of a Marlboro Cowboy (in what has to be our favourite of all his contentious ‘borrowed’ image works).
The hotel, which has 118 rooms, also includes a world-class spa featuring a pool with a glass wall looking out across the fjord and ladder access for to the icy waters post-sauna – if you’re brave enough. Back inside, the stunning restaurant and terrace is reached via a lift filled with Julian Opie images that wink at you as you enter. Each of the rooms comes complete with all the Sanci-touches you would expect – Nespresso machines, thick blankets, sumptuous bath tubs and an accessories draw complete with back-up batteries, guide books and ‘couples kits’.
The atmosphere, which combines clean-line sleekness with just the right dose of glamour, attracts young and old, business and pleasure, local and foreign – and the cocktail bar is one of the best in the city. The hotel is also located in a district full of commercial galleries if you need that ultimate souvenir, and your room key gives you free access to the nearby Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art too. For art lovers then, it is heaven.
For food, the nearby Omakase by Alex Cabiao restaurant turns sushi in to an art form. The Nordic countries are known for their superb seafood, and Oslo’s proximity to the cold waters provide it with some of the world’s best fish. In the restaurant, which only seats 16 diners, each faces two world champion Japanese sushi chefs who both prepare the fresh catch of the day. Each strip of flesh is tenderly cut, wrapped in rice with a thumb-print of wasabi then brushed with a glaze of soy – before being placed on a wooden plate in front of each diner.
The wonder of the food comes from its simplicity. The chef’s cooking is like a ballet that lasts 25 courses over several hours of an evening – which speeds past too fast with the wine pairings. The sushi here beats most of what this writer has even had in Japan.
An Oslo Pass offers travel, entrance to a variety of attractions and discounts from your iPhone, available for 24, 48 and 72 hours.