onsdag 18. mars 2009

Appeal for the National Gallery

Norway’s National Gallery has been at the center of public debate from the merging of various national museums in 2003, to the government decision in February 2009 to relocate and merge these museums physically. The past six years have been tumultuous, and many words have been both spoken and written.We are especially concerned about the government’s decision to move the entire collection of older art to a “spectacular” and “flexible” new building complex at the previous site of Oslo’s West Train Station. The National Gallery first began with a parliament resolution in 1836 to establish a public art collection. It took 63 years before the collection was housed in a “permanent location of its own.” The National Gallery’s building in Universitetgaten was an integral part of Norway’s democratic nation-building, and is thus part of European cultural history. The first portion of the museum was finished in 1881, and the entire building, as it stands today with a south and north wing, was completed in 1924. It took 43 years to complete a museum for what was then a poor nation. It was designed by the German architect Heinrich Ernst Schirmer (headhunted by the painter J.C. Dahl) and his son, Adolf Schirmer, and modeled on recently erected museums in Germany and England – such as Alte Pinakothek from 1830 in Munich, where Schirmer had studied at the art academy. It is in this context the National Gallery must be viewed – in relation to the first architecture for museums as institutions. History is visible precisely in the way the building was intended to be used and is still used to this day: as a edifice housing an art collection, available to the general public in the city center, near other important national institutions of edification such as the university and National theater.
Up to now, it is primarily architects and cultural commentators who have defended the National Gallery against the planned relocation. It is time that artists and others within the field of art come forth.Moving the older works of art and incorporating them into a “flexible” structure housing various collections actually means decontexualizing the works, detaching them from their historical framework. Once again, 85 years later, they will be “homeless.” When the building’s content literally disappears from the old museum, the same works in the new museum will merely become isolated artifacts, free-floating attractions in a setting lacking the gravitational pull of the past. The building provides the historical context. If everything becomes interchangeable, then we will no longer be able to create new art, since there will be nothing to weigh it against – no history.Something must be done.Artists and others active in the field of art: we need to work together to create strategies for the preservation of the National Gallery. The museum not only needs to stay where it has always stood; it needs renovation and renewal in order to function as a collection of older art. We propose a meeting, not to discuss the pros and cons of relocation, but to initiate action on behalf of the National Gallery. We must recognize that we live in a post-discursive society.An international architectural competition is to be announced before Easter. The relocation of the National Gallery has become a matter of urgency for the Ministry of Culture. It has also become a matter of principle – and precisely therefore we must act rather than defend the National Gallery with arguments.Send this as an email to those you know who may be interested.

Ingrid Book & Carina Hedén

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