Learn more about Kunstnernes Hus' history of 91 years - from the architectural design competition in 1928 to the corona pandemic in 2021. This page is being continuously updated with more stories, dates and anecdotes. Stay tuned!
Architectural design competition
In 1928, the deed was signed and an architectural design competition was announced. The participants in the competition were bound by a number of clauses and provisions. The sixty-two design proposals submitted were displayed in an exhibition that was covered by most of the capital’s newspapers, and the winners were the architects Gudolf Blakstad and Herman Munthe-Kaas with their proposal “Felix”.
The construction work started in the spring of 1929 and concluded around a year later, with major changes made to the original proposal. The building is cast concrete, with bricks arranged on the outside in a pattern to demonstrate that they are not load-bearing. Rooms were added at the rear of the building that were rented to the Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts, with classrooms and professors’ studios on three floors.
On October 1 1930, a sunny autumn day, Kunstnernes Hus opened with the Autumn Exhibition. King Haakon, Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Märtha were present. In the newspapers, the house was described as Europe's "most modern exhibition building". The opening marked the beginning of a new era for Norwegian artists: they finally got their own house! The press stated that the Autumn Exhibition had had a renaissance with the new premises. Twice as many works were submitted for jury trial as before, and as many as 400 works were exhibited.
Building the house cost 650,000 Norwegian kroner. The newspaper Tidens Tegn compared its facade to a piece of art, stating further that the opening of the house "heralds a new era for our art life as a whole".
The Krohg family
The first independently produced exhibition after the house opened featured father and son Christian and Per Krohg, who exhibited over 150 works. The critics were in awe, and many addressed the underlying question: who did best? The two artists, and later Per Krohg's son Morten, were all to play a central role in Kunstnernes Hus' history and in the Norwegian public art scene.
The bronze lions in front of Kunstnernes Hus were made by the sculptor Ørnulf Bast and mounted in the spring of 1931. They were a gift from wholesaler Alf Bjercke. The lions guard the entrance to Kunstnernes Hus, and respectively symbolize freedom and creativity. The lions have become part of the house's identity, and countless Oslo residents have memories of climbing on them as children.
The ceiling mural
Per Krohg's 22 x 3.5 metre large ceiling mural in the stairwell was painted in the summer of 1932. The fresco was a gift from architect Lars Backer and and was described by the artist himself as a representation of an artist's development through three stages: “The artist's thorny path to the heights”.
Guernica to Norway
Guernica by Pablo Picasso arrived at Kunstnernes Hus in December 1937. The 8 meter long painting was shipped to Norway immediately after it was exhibited at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1936. Picasso was exhibited together with Henri Matisse, Georges Braque and Henri Laurens as part of Den Franske Utstillingen (The French Exhibition) arranged by Walther Halvorsen.
Matisse’s daughter Madame Duthuit came to the opening and held the opening speech. Picasso, on the other hand, stayed in Paris since he thought Oslo in January would be too cold.
The Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts
The Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts has always been rooted in Kunstnernes Hus' history. The rooms at the rear of the building were given over to students specialising in sculpture and painting from the moment the building opened. Renting out these rooms was necessary for Kunstnernes Hus in order to maintain the house. Among the students in the picture below from the late 1940s, we find Fritz Røed, Sivert Donald, Solveig Schafferer and Jon Ekeland.
Kunstnernes Hus is seized
The Wehrmacht seized Kunstnernes Hus on April 1st, 1942, emptying the property until not even a drawing pin remained. Kunstnernes Hus continued its operations out of a temporary office at Camilla Collets vei 8. The building was left with trenches built around its perimeter and witnessed battles between the resistance and German soldiers in Slottsparken.
Opening after the war
The Germans capitulated in May 1945, with Kunstnernes Hus finally reopening on November 22nd after much tidying up by German prisoners of war. The opening of the Autumn Exhibition on that day was a symbol of Norway aiming to regain its former artistic status after five long years of suppression and isolation. The occupation’s “artistic front” would now become a “work front” to rebuild our national culture life.
The Nordic Art Federation
After the war, contact with other Nordic countries was restored. At a meeting in Stockholm in November 1945, the Nordic countries agreed to create a joint cooperation and coordination structure. The purpose of the Nordic Art Federation was, by constantly exchanging art between the Nordic countries "to contribute to the sense of Nordic cohesion and the cultural community and otherwise work for the benefit of the Nordic art life."
The riddle of the Etruscans
The riddle of the Etruscans was undoubtedly the most ambitious exhibition project Kunstnernes Hus ever embarked upon. The exhibition was protected by H.M the King and H.K.H. Crown Prince. The exhibition included almost 500 works of art, lent from 34 public and private collections in Italy, Germany and France. Never before had any exhibition in Norway received such overwhelming coverage in the media. Although visitor numbers were high, the exhibition was an economic disaster.
In the early 60s, nonfigurative painting finally gained ground in Norway. Jacob Weidemann's impressive solo exhibition in the spring of 1961 can thus be said to denote a watershed. At the same time as Weidemann, Arnold Haukeland exhibited abstract sculptures in Kunstnernes Hus. This exhibition has also been a milestone in our modern art history. Several solo exhibitions of international and Norwegian modern artists followed. "Modern art" had become acceptable.
The youth's rebellion
A new group of artists were taking the lead in the middle of the 1960's. At the exhibition "14 young artists" in 1965, one could find artists Siri Aurdal, Per Kleiva, Morten Krohg, Ørnulf Opdahl, Jan Radlgruber, Ole Rinnan, John Anton Risan, Kjartan Slettemark and Arne Sørensen. Most of them were in their late 20's. They represented a vigorous and rebellious generation.
Only a handfull of the younger artists would have the honour of having a solo exhibition at Kunstnernes Hus, but some were able to exhibit their intentions and spirit better than others. Morten Krohg was one of them. He exhibited his "skrotbilder" in 1967, works that were put together by various found objects; buttons, trousers, zippers, forks, knives, electric plugs or parts of a mattress.
Irma Salo Jæger
The year after Morten Krohg was presented was the year Irma Salo Jæger had an exhibition of her newest paintings as well as large, mobile "shovel-sculptures" made of aluminium, acrylglass and lightfilters.
A few months after a large and popular exhibition on Op-Kunst in 1968 came the first Pop Art exhibition in Norway, with no other than Andy Warhol himself. With iconic works such as the "Marilyn Monroe" series, "The electric chair" and 400 Brillo boxes, the sensation was enormous. It is believed that Andy Warhol curated the exhibition himself. The critics were baffled. "Is this art?", one wrote in Morgenbladet.
With her "Active room", Siri Aurdal demonstrated large glass fiber sculptures in 1969. "I would not hesitate in declaring that this is one of the most positive and uplifting that has happened within Norwegian sculpture for many years" wrote the art critic Gerd Woll ved denne anledning; "Hopefully, the way that Siri Aurdal has paved will enable to finally dare making something different than traditional sculpture parks, in the form of nice animals, naked women or playful kids."(Arbeiderbladet, 24.05.69)
UKS without a jury
In 1970, the young artist society (UKS) invited its members to the Spring Exhibition without a jury. Their chairman wanted to challenge the artist's "safeguard position" and maintained that it was a right for every member of UKS to show their work without any cohesive traits. The exhibition presented, among others, Heyerdahl, Per Kleiva, Bjørn Krogstad and Willi Storn.
The artist's mobilisation
One of the most important trait of Norwegian art life in the 1970's is without doubt the artist's mobilisations and claim to rights. The artists took a stance against authorities, and their organisations were more and more involved in society's decisions. The regional organisation would professionalize themselves and asked increasingly for a decentralisation of cultural life. In 1974 there was an turning point as a political art organisation (NBFO) was formed. The question of artistic freedom of speech that had prevailed all previous year was supplemented by the question of the basic needs of the artist's life in society.
Contemporary Cuban art
Cuba showed an artistic project in Norway for the very first time with 162 works by Cuban artists. The introduction in the exhibition catalogue was written by Fidel Castro himself.
The Palestine exhibition
A Norwegian premiere: Kunstnernes Hus hosts a large exhibition of Palestinian artists in November organised by PLO, in solidarity with Palestine.
Kounellis, Kapoor and Pistoletto
In January, Kunstnernes Hus presents a solo exhibition by British artist Anish Kapoor, only 31 years old. Next came Michelangelo Pistoletto at the end of January with large isoporous sculptures in the upper halls. In April, a group exhibition with Arte Povera, with among others Jannis Kounellis. The exhibition was not shown anywhere else and was made specifically for Kunstnernes Hus.
Lawler, Sherman and Simmons
The exhibition with Louise Lawler, Cindy Sherman and Laurie Simmons in 1993 received a lot of attention as it was the artists' first ever presentation in Norway. All three were present at the opening. The images showed a new and different way of using photography. In her review in the newspaper Dagbladet, Lotte Sandberg formulated a possible explanation for why precisely these New York-based artists used photography as their preferred medium: "That the trio chose to use photography as an artistic means of expression may be related to the fact that photography was a 'free' medium. Sculpture and painting were already occupied by male artists. In this aspect, one can read both institutional and ideological criticism." It is tempting to link the impact of these photographs in Oslo in the early 1990s to a local situation at the time, where painting in particular was a particularly male-dominated category. Hilde Vemren wrote in Dagbladet that "it might seem that it was easier for a female politician to enter the Norwegian Parliament than for a female artist to show her art at Kunstnernes Hus."
Tino Sehgal's solo exhibition was an adaptation of the work This Progress, previously shown in the Guggenheim Museum, New York. The audience was led by, and invited to engage in a conversation with, four so-called interpreters (children!), on a specific route through the museum. This was the first, and perhaps the last, time the house has been opened up to the audience in such an extensive way.
Launch of Kunstnernes Hus Cinema
Kunstnernes Hus Cinema was established in 2016 as Oslo's first independent cinema and has since been a key player in promoting the position of film as an art form. Laurie Anderson was present at the opening for a talk and screening of her movie Heart of a Dog (2015).
Memorial service for Pushwagner
A very special event took place at Kunstnernes Hus in 2017: the memorial service for the artist Pushwagner. The house was filled to the brim, and the ceremony was held in the skylight hall with a number of cultural personalities present and Thomas Selzer as master of ceremonies. Pushwagner had several exhibitions at Kunstnernes Hus and was a regular in the house's restaurant.
Launch of SILVER SERIES
In 2018, Kunstnernes Hus launched its new screening series SILVER SERIES in the cinema. The series takes the form of "mini-retrospective" presentations where international artists working with film and video are presented. First out was renowned French artist Pierre Huyghe, followed by Camille Henrot, Jeremy Deller and Ed Atkins. The selected artists all work consistently with film and video, in addition to and in dialogue with other media. They have all developed a distinctive and innovative audiovisual language that explores the political, social or technological conditions of our time.
This was exhibition the first exhibition by Norwegian-Nigerian artist Frida Orupabo in Norway. Orupabo has since achieved great international recognition and has shown her work at the Venice Biennale, Portikus in Frankfurt and the São Paulo Biennale. Orupabo is known for her raw and disturbing collages that explore the significance of skin colour, sexuality and gender, as well as the body's vulnerability and exposure. Orupabo had invited the renowned American artist and filmmaker Arthur Jafa to join the exhibition. His work focuses on the central role that African-American music and culture have played in American popular culture, which he combines with highlighting the widespread violent racism in American daily life.
Launch of our summer exhibitions
In 2019, Kunstnernes Hus had the pleasure of announcing that, for the first time in decades, the iconic skylight halls could be kept open to the public in the summer. Two exhibitions were presented featuring Norwegian artists Jana Winderen and Morten Andenæs. Winderen's sound installation Rising Tide offered a unique journey below sea level. Based on sound recordings with hydrophones, the artist created an immersive 30-channel sound installation that gave the audience the opportunity to experience the communication between fish, crustaceans and whales. The installation was purchased by the National Museum of Art in 2020. The summer exhibitions are made possible with the support from Sparebankstiftelsen DNB.
Curious about other, specific exhibitions? Have a look at the catalogue below produced in connection with our 90th anniversary in 2020 (in Norwegian):