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Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo

Flash Art – November December 2012

The sun dances on a sail-like rooftop. Wooden walls rise up to the water, facing a little park and beach. No way around it: the new building of the Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo, designed by Renzo Piano, is a gem in Scandinavia’s museum landscape. Located on the peak of the semi-island Tjuvholmen, in walking distance from the city hall, it is run by the collector Hans Rasmus Astrup. Still, the building belongs to the city, which aims to upgrade this investor’s area to a cultural site. It is a public-private partnership that may become a role model.

Director Gunnar Kvaran now has 4,000 square meters in which to play around with the collection: 1,500 pieces with a focus on art from the US. These works used to be hosted by Astrup’s office building, on a much smaller scale. “Now we have two buildings,” says Kvaran, “one for the collection and one for special exhibitions.” So what is notable about the collection? “We own many works by a few artists instead of accumulating historical movements,” he explains. That is why the museum has an enormous number of pieces by Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman and Robert Gober. 

Hence, it almost sounds protestant to call the opening exhibition “To be with art is all we ask,” a title borrowed from Gilbert & George. Large-scale installations by Matthew Barney and Damien Hirst almost rage against the museum walls. Huang Yong Ping’s *Colosseum* (2007) opens onto the highest galleries where Nate Lowman, Wade Guyton and Kelley Walker traffic in New York cut-and-paste irony. There is a lot of figuration in the show, circulating around identity, power, sex and violence — which points to, as Kvaran claims, life in the city. In 2013 things will become more precise: solo presentations by Paul Chan and Cindy Sherman will be followed by an exhibition on art from Brazil. Indeed, the new museum has made Oslo go global for good. At one time the city was quite self-absorbed with residencies, life-long pensions and shows on art from Norway. In recent years though, spaces like 1852 and Standard (OSLO), as well as international curators like Mats Stjernstedt at Kunstnernes Hus, have opened up the scenery. Yes, Tjuvholmen looks like a yuppie area. But the new museum will attract not just major local gallerists like Peder Lund or Gerhardsen Gerner from Berlin. The National Museum will also start a new building soon. It’s all about the company.

© Gesine Borcherdt