He may be acclaimed in the art world and coveted by thieves but Edvard Munch is starved of recognition in his native Norway, where squabbles have delayed a new museum worthy of his oeuvre.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of the expressionist master, who painted the now iconic The Scream. But the anniversary is clouded by the city of Oslo’s inability to provide a proper setting for the art gems the painter left in his will.
Munch, who died in 1944, bequeathed an enormous collection to the Norwegian capital, including 1,100 paintings, 3,000 drawings and 18,000 etchings. But the current Munch Museum, constructed cheaply after World War II in a rather rundown Oslo neighborhood, does not do justice to the priceless trove.
While all agree on the need for a better museum, there are divisions over where to place it. Oslo’s city council agreed in 2008 to erect a building near the new, futuristic opera house on the shores of the Oslo fjord, but those plans were scrapped three years later when the populist right suddenly withdrew its support without a concrete explanation.
Failure to reach agreement could be interpreted as a Norwegian cold shoulder to the country’s most famous artist, in sharp contrast to his huge international appeal.
A million people recently visited a Munch exhibit that toured Paris, Frankfurt and London. One of four versions of The Scream Munch painted was sold last year at a New York auction for the record sum of US$119.9 million.
By comparison, the Munch Museum in Oslo attracts around 126,000 visitors per year, even though it owns two versions of The Scream, perhaps the most famous expression of existential angst.