fredag 27. mars 2009

Lotte Konow Lund - Morgenbladet

“Someone ought to wish to remember those things which others wish to be forgotten.”
Georg Johannesen

Whilst I was still studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Oslo in 1995, the Education Minister Gudmund Hernes came to talk to us. His visit was occasioned by the controversial appointment of Odd Nerdrum as Professor at the Academy. Minister Hernes came to rebuke students and staff for their opposition to both the appointment as well as their opposition to the planned merging of the Academy with the Oslo National Academy of the Arts.

As a student I saw this meeting as a link in a series of cases in which we were out of our depth. We understood what was being discussed, but were unable to grasp the consequences. The experience was both frustrating and led to a feeling of powerlessness. We understood that we should express our point of view, that it was now or never, but instead found that what we said was not taken seriously. Worse still, we realized that decisions which would change conditions at the Academy for ourselves as well as future generations of artists, had been made beforehand. Minister Hernes was here to rebuke us , not talk with us.
Time has shown that the merging with the Oslo National Academy of the Arts was to have much greater and more serious consequences than the appointment of a Professor in figurative art: Jan Sæther took up the position after Odd Nerdrum withdrew his application.

Towards the end of the meeting with Minister Hernes, having managed to overcome my fear due to the large number of journalists present, I asked the minister if this was the way that the Labour party carried out its cultural policies, by overriding and not listening, by overseeing and eliminating artistic independence. I remember this so well, because I was genuinely surprised by Hernes` dominant manner, and by the strong reaction of the assembled press.
I have since thought that I had pointed out something important without quite being aware of the whole situation. The Labour party carried out there and then a policy that it will have to answer for in the future. One can therefore rightly question whether a political party`s policies lack foresight and long term perspectives.

We are at present at the same stage in a similar process. It has taken many of us some time to understand that as a consequence of the present government`s decision to build a new museum, two of Oslo`s main museums will be closing down. It is important that both the government and its cultural minister understand the signals they are giving out by not listening.

The city of Oslo has undergone continual change in recent years. The biggest building boom and inner city expansion since the 50`s and 60`s continues unabated. The success of the new Opera building has had a cumulative effect, but it is easy to forget that it took eight years to reach the decision to build it. By way of contrast, it took , if I am not mistaken, two hours to decide to go ahead and build Hotel Opera, the yellow building that now lies between the Opera house and Oslo`s main railway station. Whether it is a question of saving time or money, it seems strange from a political point of view that a public debate has not been thought necessary. This is all the more surprising as a vital decision concerning our cultural future is being made in an election year.

On the other hand it seems to be the case that when one wishes to accomplish something significant and necessarily controversial in a democracy, without opposition, the most appropriate strategy is to coax the case forward millimetre by millimetre until all the appropriate contracts are signed. In this way each citizen will be aware of their democratic right to protest, but they must bear the responsibility of not having used that right on the day that they understood the consequences.

One of the arguments used to justify the building of a new large museum is that the public can save time once all artforms are collected in one edifice. Not only artists are astonished at such reasoning, but it does say a lot about how art is perceived. To walk around a city is an integral part of a cultural experience. Who looks at art to save time? Who wants a city built to save time? Buildings and urban spaces are collective memories, and the city represents our common understanding of reality. Architecture plays a role in defining who we are in a society, how we relate to each other, how we move and the whole context is decisive in how we experience the content in each and every building. Hotel Opera is just as real as the Opera, and it defines how one reads the activities inside the Opera building. But no one saw the building before it stood there.

It is not hard to see that we need a new museum for contemporary art. The museum at Bankplassen has hardly been mentioned, let alone visited, since the exhibition Kyss Frosken signalled a transitional phase. Today most of us are uncertain as to the building`s purpose. The bookshop has moved out, leaving an empty space with a few wires sticking up from the floor. The last time I was there the ground floor rooms were partially in darkness, the rest being used for children`s workshops. The rental sum for such a building would make a solid contribution to the new museum that contemporary art in Norway deserves. In the meantime we have hardly seen any shows of contemporary Norwegian art arranged by the National Museum, and just as with other aspects of cultural life here, private initiatives fill the gap.
This is not quite in the spirit of a red-green government alliance.

Exhibiting all art-movements in one edifice will leave us worse off than before. We will not only lose buildings whose main significance is related to their present location, but the Conglomerate Museum will imply that our history of art does not deserve more than one edifice. Artists are justifiably concerned as to whether the autonomy of their respective practices will be threatened.
As a student of mine (a Kurd and seeking asylum) said to me: “The way that this society can really make us dangerous is to take away from us our right to be ourselves, with our cultural heritage and identity.”

The idea of a happy spirit of community in a cut price flat organizational structure comes at a cost.

The first thing to be done is to assess the cost of upgrading the National Gallery. An independent panel of experts ought to be able to work out the costs involved, together with those of developing the present site at Tullinløka . Politicians are at present claiming that holding on to the National Gallery is a utopian dream, based on their assessment of the costs involved. It would be naïve to take this argument at face value, seeing as how no one has seen how the costs have been worked out. We cannot settle for less than preserving, as the artist Halvard Haugerud stated laconically, the evidence that we have once been a cultured nation.

Of course Norway has the means to upgrade the National Gallery and the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design as well as build a museum of contemporary art. We can afford the costs. We can afford it as much as we afford to celebrate our National Day.

Historical edifices such as the National Gallery and the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design ought to be preserved by popular demand. Rebuking average citizens for claiming their democratic rights to take part in decision making processes in matters of historical importance might be a tougher task than the one Gudmund Hernes faced at the Academy years ago. All the more so in an election year.

Put up your hands, all of you who are campaigning under the following slogans: Our party was the one that neglected and then tore down Edvard Munch`s house. Or: We were the party that refused Rolf Stenersen`s gift to the City of Oslo, because we did not want to use money for a museum to house the collection. What about: We took the decision to build the Munch Museum on the cheap. Or: We proposed all those years ago to tear down the old houses along Karl Johan. And why not: Our party gave you Oslo Hotel Opera?

A government`s term is four years. The consequences of the present minister of culture`s decision to tear down our history and rebuild a collection that will then redefine it, and not necessarily in a better way, are a reality for the foreseeable future.

Lotte Konow Lund
Visual artist

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