Norway’s Oslo is one of Europe’s most beautiful capital cities: its natural surroundings of rolling hills and mountains, verdant islands and the sea, give this 1000 year-old city an abundance of natural beauty. Lining two scenic bays, it has 40 islands within the city limits (and scores more around the fjord), the city happily straddles both land and water.
Life here is idyllic. No one is in a rush, and the stresses are kept to a minimum. Yet this sleepy city has spent the past few years positioning itself as one of the foremost centres for contemporary art in Europe.
Tjuvholmen – an art district
The waterside district of Tjuvholmen (pronounced Shoohomen) has been regenerated, at great expense but with equally great success, and is now home to some stunning contemporary galleries, and an extraordinary art. Street art and sculptures are popping up all over the place, and vast murals have been commissioned.
Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art
A must-see is the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, which began life as a private collection, and opened to the public as a museum. The museum’s two dramatic glass and timber structures were designed by the architect Renzo Piano, and have set the architectural style for the other new buildings in the area.
The collection includes thousands of contemporary artworks by Norwegian and international artists to the present. American contemporary artists are particularly well represented, though in recent years the curators have also sought out iconic photographs, sculptures, paintings, and multi-media works by emerging and established Brazilian, Japanese, Chinese, and contemporary artists.
The big name artists include Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, and Jeff Koons.
Here too you can see the work of American Tom Sachs, for whom branding is itself an art form. He takes the mass-produced images we are all familiar with — the golden arches, the seal of the United States, household white goods — and recreates them by hand, using cheap materials such as cardboard, construction materials, wood, and adhesives. Sachs is interested in showing the way things work, the nuts and bolts inside, and so his life-sized sculptures are not only spectacularly detailed, but also often allow us to look inside, as though they were 3D exploded diagrams.
Perhaps the two longest-established artists whose work is displayed at the Astrup Fearnley are the duo Gilbert & George, Italian Gilbert Proesch and British George Passmore. Having met at art school in London in the 1960s, they led a rebellion against what they believed to be the elitism of sculpture. To bring this medium back within the reach of ordinary people, they pioneered “living sculptures”, performing for up to eight hours at a time on the streets of London, as well as in galleries.
The park was designed at the same time as the Museum, also by Renzo Piano, and it contains seven significant sculptures, one each by Louise Bourgeois, Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Ellsworth Kelly, Ugo Rondinone, Franz West, and the duo Peter Fischli & David Weiss. If you have just half an hour to spare in Oslo, you should come here, to walk amongst the sculptures, and then to sit on a bench, peacefully, staring out across the fjord.