Walking along the street in Oslo, I spy what looks like a discarded bright orange workman’s overalls just sitting on the ground, except it is inside a cage. What’s this all about then? I think to myself. What is a discarded workman’s overalls doing in a cage on the main street? After a bit of brain strain, I realise: it is modern art, a commentary on the Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
Most people probably would have figured this out a bit quicker than me, but there you go. No need to go an art gallery to see this sort of stuff in Oslo – they just whack it up everywhere, which gives walking around the city a real edge.
You soon notice that similar sculptures are part of the entire cityscape, possibly a product of a high-tax society where artists get government grants as long as they donate some of their work back to the community.
There is artwork everywhere in Oslo. Indeed, the centrepiece of the city’s park, Frognerparken, is a magnificent, sprawling sculpture created by artist Gustav Vigeland between 1907 and 1942. In the centre of it is the monolith, a 14m tall column of human bodies carved out of a single block of stone. Around this, there are hundreds of figures illustrating all the rights and wrongs of human nature, essentially telling the story of the cycle of life. That is one hell of a story, but then this is one hell of a sculpture and you could spend a day or more here figuring out Vigeland’s take on humanity.
Take, for instance, the two children riding an adult woman like it is a beast, forcing her on to hands and knees and tugging her hair and gagging her as if it were the bit in the teeth of a horse. This seems to symbolise a parent downtrodden by selfish children. Or is it a reminder to parents how ugly it is to ever think of their children as a burden? Discuss, and move on to the next one.
One of the better known sculptures in Frognerparken is that of an angry young boy (Sinnataggen) stamping his foot and throwing a tantrum.
I remember doing that sort of thing myself when I was younger, in fact I’ve come close to it on few recent shopping trips in London. How embarrassing. (Note to self: don’t do it again.)
The young boy sculpture was once sawn off at the foot and stolen. Thankfully, he was found safe and sound and was reattached.
This was sadly not the case, however, with Oslo’s best known piece of art, The Scream by Edvard Munch. It was stolen in broad daylight from the Munch museum in Oslo a year ago and has not been seen since.
Not as bad as it sounds at first, as Munch actually did several versions of The Scream, some of which are on permanent display at the Museum.
Munch said his inspiration for the piece came when he was looking over the Oslofjord and suddenly the sky turned blood red and there was blood and tongues of fire above fjord and the city, and in his words, I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature”.
Well, thankfully Oslo’s beautiful mix of fjord, city and the country hills didn’t inspire this sort of feeling in me.
I did, however, get to see a Scream face when one of the guys I was with realised he had to pay £13 for a bottle of San Miguel he could have got in London for £2. Priceless. Yes, alcohol is that expensive in Oslo, but at least it means you don’t have to put up with hordes of stag and hen nights. And who needs it with all this art around, anyway?
Besides price, there is a really lively nightlife in the trendy café and pub culture in the Grunerlokka quarter of the city. It is definitely the hip place to be, and is worth a visit just to check out the mullets and fluorescent shoes, if not for a coffee.
However, not everything in Oslo has to be complicated in the way of modern art, or simply too cool for school. Depending on the season, there’s skiiing, mountain-biking or hiking around the former Winter Olympics course, which is easily reached by subway.
And before leaving, make sure you get your hands on an Ostehovel. This is the economical, spade-like cheese slicer invented in Norway in 1925. They are amazing, easy to use and very practical. Just what a man needs after all that brain strain.”