COMMENTARY: Norwegian artist Edvard Munch’s 150th anniversary year is still going strong, as is the Dance of Life about the new proposed museum.
Oslo City Council announced its final decision to relocate the Munch museum to Bjørvika in May. The press conference, held in the City Hall’s Munch Room, heard the building would be a new high-rise development on the downtown waterfront. Politicians had plumped for the proposed 12-storey ‘Lambda’ building designed by Spanish architect Juan Herreros.
Mathematics and machinations
The announcement ostensibly ended the bureaucratic bickering that had gone on since 2008, when the City Council had first decided to move the Munch museum out of the purposely-designed building at Tøyen on the east side of the city. It opened in 1963, the centennial of artist Edvard Munch’s birth.
Yet questions remain. According to a report in the 7 August edition of Aftenposten, the Directorate of Cultural Heritage still is displeased with the Lambda solution at Bjørvika. Negotiations concerning these objections can delay museum relocation.
Worse, in all politicking to date, the basic purpose of the new museum seems subordinated to its architecture and incorporation in an urban planning configuration.
Dag Solhjell, PhD, former professor of art and cultural policy and history at the Telemark University College, asserts in an Art Criticism Foundation essay published 22 October 2012 (in Norwegian only) that Lambda suits neither Munch nor museum visitors. He gives credence to this by describing how visitors to the proposed Lambda museum would experience it.
Apparently, the principles of social design in museums (see Further Reading) have been ignored in the vertical Lambda configuration. The building is planned with 12 floors, of which eight are for exhibitions, divided into ten rooms. Visitors are moved about in lifts and by 15 escalators. The building is vertically divided into an open, dynamic zone, and a more passive zone with exhibition rooms and storerooms.
The dynamic zone and the exhibition rooms are interconnected by airlocks to ensure interior climate control and safety. Each airlock consists of an intermediate chamber and two airtight doors. Going through an airlock involves four door movements, opening and closing them.
Eight movements are involved when entering and exiting an exhibition room, going in and out of the ten exhibition rooms involves 80. Many visitors in the museum will mean the airlock doors will be constantly opening and closing, queues may form at them. Likewise, the 15 escalators may be crowded. Neither the airlock doors nor the escalators operate completely silently.
The lighting in the dynamic zone is bright and in part natural and varying throughout a day. The lighting in the passive zone is more subdued and stable. So visitors moving between the first zone and the second’s exhibition rooms encounter light that alternates in intensity from bright to dim and back again.
Moreover, the many escalators, floors, airlocks and exhibition rooms complicate conceptual orientation and circulation in the building.
Convenience and safety
Academics and cultural personages have called for a new Munch museum at Tøyen. Amongst other reasons, this is because the district not only offers the space needed, but has several museums: one of Oslo’s more popular attractions, the nearby Zoological Museum, the Geologic Museum, and the Botanical Gardens of the University of Oslo’s Natural History Museum, famed as home of ‘Ida’, the oldest known primate fossil.
Tøyen has three other features. Its centrally-located Metro station is a node in the city’s public transport network with frequent services from downtown as well as outlying districts. The car park there can be enlarged to accommodate more cars and tourist busses.
Fire protection, increasingly a concern for art museums, is more easily implemented in the linear design of a single or two-storey building than in the vertical design of a high rise. The importance of risk management at an art museum cannot be underestimated; the fire of March 2011 near the Louvre in Paris underscored the worth of the museum’s extensive fire and flood protection systems.
Moreover, the benefits of locating art museums in linear design buildings in spacious parks away from city centres are well-known. There are two outstanding nearby examples, both famed tourist attractions with museum buildings integrated into sculpture parks.
The first is Oslo neighbour the Henie-Onstad Art Centre, opened in 1968 on the Høvikodden peninsula in Bærum – the suburb just beyond the city limits south along the Fjord.
Second is the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, established in 1958 at Humlebæk 35 km (some north of Copenhagen, Denmark. It’s one of Denmark’s major tourist attractions and is listed (on page 339) in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz (New York, Workman, 2nd edition 2012, 1200 page paperback, ISBN 978-0761156864).
Munch på Tøyen (Oslo, Kamilla Aslaksen, Pax Forlag 2011, 123 pages softcover, ISBN 978-82-530-3414-0, in Norwegian), an overview of the history and the various aspects of the plans for moving the museum, copiously referenced in 10 chapters and 2 appendixes by 13 academicians and cultural personages who together call for a new Munch museum at Tøyen.
Social Design in Museums: The Psychology of Visitor Studies, (Edinburgh, MuseumsEtc 2011, 928 page paperback, two volumes, ISBN 978-907697-19-7 and 978-907697-32-6), a compilation of essays by and for museum and gallery professionals.