Out of Memos – An Exhibition Emerges

Authored by Janicke Iversen

For many years art historian Trine Otte Bak Nielsen dreamt of realising "the ultimate exhibition" in which the life and work of Gustav Vigeland and Edvard Munch were shown together. Her dream has become reality in her very first project as a newly engaged curator at the Munch Museum.

Why did you become an art historian?

I acquired an interest in the subject already in high school when I was taking an art class. I decided rather quickly that I would study art history at the University of Oslo, and when I began my studies I became very inspired. It was actually a painting by Edvard Munch, Metabolism, which led to my first defining experience in a classroom situation of how interesting art history can be as a profession. We analysed the work for several hours and as a student this gave me insight into all of the possibilities that are involved in studying just one single work or a particular area of an artist's oeuvre, replies Nielsen pensively.

What sort of background and experience have you brought with you to the Munch Museum?

I bring with me a rather broad range of experience based on historically oriented as well as contemporary art. In the past I have worked on the staff at the artist-run gallery Kunstnerforbundet, as coordinator of the Munch jubilee in 2013 and as curator at the Vigeland Museum. In addition I have for a number of years been co-editor of the art magazine Kunstforum.

Why did you wish to work at the Munch Museum?

Edvard Munch's art has interested me since my student days, and I wrote my thesis on his bathing scenes from Warnemünde (1907-08). I feel it is a privilege to have the opportunity to work with the museum's collection, and right now I am contributing among other things to completing a catalogue raisonné of Munch's drawings. In addition I think it is particularly interesting to place Munch in connection with his contemporaries, and in this way create exhibitions that show how his works were part of the artistic movements of that period in Europe.

Tell me a little about the background for your first large project at the Munch Museum, the Vigeland+Munch exhibition.

The idea of creating an exhibition where Gustav Vigeland and Edvard Munch are shown together originated when I began working at the Vigeland Museum seven years ago. I continuously came over evidence of relatively unknown "points of contact" between the two artists, which place them in connection with one another both personally and artistically. These repeated "finds" ended up as a pile of notes and memos in a drawer, which now comprise a major part of the material in the final realisation of the exhibition.

Why is it important to compare the two artists?

Vigeland and Munch lived and worked during the same period. They were influenced and inspired by the same contemporary movements, and at times belonged to the same artists' circles both in Norway and abroad. We can also see that their works have several common traits, among other things with regard to subject matter and choice of motif. Given that Vigeland and Munch are two of the most important artists in Norwegian art history, I believe it is important that we take a closer look at the relationship between their respective artistic productions. This has not been done before to any great extent, and I feel that the time is right now, responds Nielsen with enthusiasm.

What would you point out as the most interesting aspect of the exhibition?

It is difficult to select only one thing, but I am personally very pleased that we can show Vigeland's monumental relief, Hell. This work forms part of the exhibition's "Doomsday Room", where death and Judgement Day are central themes.

What is the most challenging aspect of the exhibition?

One of the most challenging things is transporting the artworks. Most of Vigeland's works are on loan from the Vigeland Museum and the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, and transporting them to the Munch Museum in a secure manner is a complicated job. Vigeland's works are both large and heavy – the bronze relief Hell, for instance, weighs 800 kilos, concludes Nielsen with an optimistic smile.