Next year, the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo will celebrate its 20 years anniversary on Tjuvholmen. At the end of September 2012, the museum was moved from Kvadraturen to its new home on Tjuvholmen. That autumn, the museum’s new home was the indisputable architectural event in Oslo, the largest since the Opera house was built. Read more about the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo at Tjuvholmen celebrating 20 Years.
At the inauguration, the director Gunnar B. Kvaran said that the museum “will open a whole new world for us”. The architect behind the building, Renzo Piano, said the building should be equal parts “beautiful”, “simple”, “unpretentious” and “informal”.
The original museum
The original museum, founded by Hans Rasmus Astrup, opened to the public in 1993. At that time the collection’s main focus was the American appropriation artists from the 1980s. Later, the collection has developed towards the international contemporary art scene, with artists like Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, Matthew Barney, Tom Sachs, Doug Aitken, Olafur Eliasson, and Cai Guo-Qiang. The museum gives 6-7 temporary exhibitions each year. Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo collaborates with international institutions and produces exhibitions that travel worldwide.
The Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo was one of the first and remains one of the greatest private museums dedicated to Contemporary Art in Europe. The museum has revolutionized the access to and appreciation of Contemporary Art in its home city.
Star architect Renzo Piano’s first project in Norway
The museum was the star architect Renzo Piano’s first project in Norway. As expected from Piano, the project focused primarily on the unique sectional design, and integrating the building with the surrounding landscape, including the sea, the green spaces, as well the surrounding built blocks.
The museum consists of three main spaces; a museum, a separate space for its temporary exhibitions, and an office building with its own exhibition area for a private art collection. One of the most prominent elements of this project is the huge glass roof that soars over the complex, linking the buildings together and giving the development a presence on the waterfront. Its curved shape, formed by laminated wood beams, crosses the canal between the buildings. The beams are supported by slender steel columns, reinforced with cable rigging, which refer to the maritime character of the site.
Related: Waterfront Oslo
The Selvaag family is behind the financing of the museum, the sculpture park outside and almost all the building stock on Tjuvholmen. Olav Selvaag (b. 1969) and Gunnar Fredrik Selvaag (b. 1975) are sons of the engineer and residential contractor Olav Selvaag (1912-2002).
The brothers are in charge of the investment company Sealbay and the real estate company Selvaag Gruppen. Since 1958, the Selvaag family has placed more than 500 art objects in residential environments in Norway. In 2012, a bronze sculpture of Olav Selvaag the Elder by artist Frode Lillesund was erected on Olav Selvaag’s square, centrally on Tjuvholmen.
In the post-war period, Olav Selvaag the elder democratized the real estate market in Oslo with its affordable and high demand “Selvaag homes”. During his life, he bought and erected several hundred sculptures and installations in residential environments. He also participated in cultural life in other ways: He established a music school in Veitvedt, gave the author Kjell Askildsen a freehold apartment in Veitvedt far below the appraised value, and the artist couple André Bjerke and Henny Moan was given a freehold appartment in Maridalen.
Ulf Andenes, author of the book “Folkets boligbygger” (“The People’s Construction Builder”), describes Olav Selvaag the Elder as “a person totally out of the ordinary, a financial, technical and operational gifted person who only appears several generations apart”.
Related: At the Edge of Oslo
The Astrup Fearnley Museum was funded by two philanthropic foundations established by descendants of the Fearnley shipping family, the Thomas Fearnley Foundation and the Heddy and Nils Astrup Foundation (merged in 1995 to become the Thomas Fearnley, Heddy and Nils Astrup Foundation). Until 1990 there were no museums in Norway that were dedicated to the art of the present, and, alongside the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the Astrup Fearnley Museet performed an imperative service in exposing the Norwegian public to the radical art of that time.
The museum created a stir in the international art world in 2002 when it purchased the American artist Jeff Koons’s monumental sculpture in gilt porcelain of the pop star Michael Jackson with Bubbles, his favorite chimpanzee, for $5.1 million.
The museum has also provided a significant platform for living Norwegian artists, with major exhibitions of artists such as Matias Faldbakken, Odd Nerdrum, Bjarne Melgaard, Marianne Heske and Fredrik Vaerslev generating significant international exposure for the country’s thriving artistic community.
Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art in Oslo 20 Years, written by Tor Kjolberg
Feature image (on top): Photo by Nic Lehous/Visit Oslo