January 23, 2011

Artist Profile: Edvard Munch, Part Two, The Munch Museum

By Therese Veier

The Oslo Council inherited Munch’s works and property in 1946 and opened a museum in 1963. The museum expanded and renovated in 1994, the 50th anniversary of Munch’s death; the project was largely financed by the Japanese company Idemitsu Kosan co. Ltd.

Apart from a fascination and admiration for Munch’s art in Japan, why did a Japanese company have to finance this? Norway is a rich country by most comparisons, largely earned by oil findings. Isn’t it the obligation of Norway and the Oslo council to take care of our cultural inheritance?

In 2004, the museum experienced a violent theft, and was burglarized in broad daylight by two armed robbers who stole The Scream and Madonna. After this incident, the museum received money from the council to update security.

Immediately after the theft in 2004, the company Det norske Veritas was hired to perform a security analysis to minimize future risks regarding fire, water and humidity damage, and theft and armed robbery, according to Sture Portvik, information and marketing director at the Munch Museum.

Det Norske Veritas report recommended the installation of "a lockable gate for the general public at some distance from the entrance door"; a labyrinth in front of the gate; and metal detectors. The DNV report also recommended that the museum protect the valuable icons with glass and bolt all pieces onto the walls; upgrade burglary protection; and "further fire sectioning of the rooms where the art works are stored.”

“The only possible action towards armed robbers is to create enough time delay so that the police can get there in time,” says Monica Solem, project manager in DNV Consulting. She adds: “At the time of the robbery, there were hardly any barriers to overcome in the museum.”

The Munch museum also contacted other museums to enquire about security measures, and the company ABM-utvikling, that specializes in active and strategic development to strengthen archives, libraries and museums role as cultural and social institutions, according to Sture Portvik.

The museum radically altered their security. Visitors today are reminded of airport security checks when entering the museum, a long wall of bulletproof glass is in front of several art works and guards are placed throughout. Museums face a difficult task in how to best maximize security, be cost-efficient, care for the art works, and still keep the art available for the public.

In the fall of 2010, the Munch Museum hired a new director, Stein Olav Henrichsen. He told the press that the museum still faces big challenges that will have to be solved before the museum is scheduled to move in 2014 into a new building (nicknamed Lambda) by architect Juan Herreros. However opinion is split about whether a new museum should be built by the sea where it might be humid and no room for expansion, or if it is better to keep the present location and renovate the old building at Tøyen. On 17th of January 2011 the council issued a final hearing for the three cultural institutions, the Munch Museum, Stenersen Museum, and Deichmanske Main Library, that are planned to relocate to Bjørvika. The deadline for a final decision is set to the 28th of February.

The museum employees have asked for financial aid because 200-300 paintings badly need technical conservation before they can be moved. Several of the paintings suffer from discoloration and peeling, and they are especially fragile because of Munch’s experiments with technique and material, and his often rough way of handling his art. He would sometimes expose artworks to the elements of nature and let the result be part of his artistic expression.

In September 2010, the council decided to give the museum 26 million Norwegian kroner for conservation.

“The Department is facing a new major challenge: preparing all the works of art to be moved to the new museum building in Bjørvika in Oslo. The emergency conservation project started in the end of September. Project leader is P.hd painting conservator Biljana Topalova Casadiego. Emergency conservation of the Stenersen Collection is soon completed.”

Just before Christmas in December 2010, during a cold period in Oslo (minus 18-20 degrees Celsius), the museum had to close several exhibition rooms, including the main exhibition room. Water ran down the inside of the museum walls, other walls where extremely humid, and the air-conditioner and heating system malfunctioned. The director informed the press that the museum had been struggling for a long time with the task of trying to provide a safe environment for the art in an inadequate building with a bad infrastructure. Several problems are due to lack of maintenance and technical insufficiencies. It is very hard to maintain stable temperatures inside the building, especially when the weather outside is cold, and condensation increases in rooms with outer walls. He compares the climate inside to a sauna, it is humid and lacks oxygen. To prevent permanent damage several artworks were put in storage, and employees took turns wiping the walls with cloths to try and keep them dry.

These problems have now been repaired. On Friday 7th of January the rehabilitation of the main exhibition room was finished, the outer walls of the museum had been isolated, and the damaged surfaces inside fixed and painted, according to Sture Portvik.

On January 21st, 2011, a new exhibition with the title “eMunch.no Text and image” opened. The exhibition is accompanied by an online publication of Munch’s texts and is intended to be used as a digital search archive. The museum also plans to make all correspondence to Munch available online as well. In 2008, a catalogue raisonné was published, and senior curator Gerd Woll at the Munch Museum is currently working on a catalogue about Munch’s prints that will be released in both Norwegian and English, according to Sture Portvik.

The museum is currently working on a strategy to make Munch’s art more available and to increase the number of visitors as well as encourage more research, with longer opening hours, lectures, concerts, new digitalized material, English translations and a new museum shop, Stein Olav Henrichsen told the press.

It seems that the museum is on the right track with a new director that has the ambition and will to care properly for Munch’s inheritance. I hope he will have the means. He is dependent on financial support from the council, because there is little private art sponsoring in Norway.

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