Kunstnernes Hus has been, and still is, a centre for the visual arts. What goes on inside the centre’s walls is of course what is most important, but it is important not to forget that the building also plays an important role in Norwegian architecture. Blakstad and Munthe-Kaas’ building represents a breakthrough for functionalism in Norway – after 1930 functionalism became the style that characterised our century’s architecture more than any other.
Below we'd like to present you with key dates and events in Kunstnernes Hus' history in order to convey a better understanding of how it all started.
1928 - 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”.
1929 - Construction begins
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.
Gudolf Blakstad and Herman Munthe-Kaas, 1929
1930 - Opening
Kunstnernes Hus was completed on 1 October 1930 and is now considered one of the main monuments in Norwegian architectural history in the intersection between neoclassicism and functionalism.
Tidens Tegn, 20.09.1930
1931 - The lions
Ørnulf Bast’s bronze lions outside the main entrance were completed in 1931, and were a gift from wholesaler Alf Bjercke. They represent "Freedom" and "Creativity".
1932 - Per Krogh
Per Krogh’s 22x3.5 metre ceiling mural in the stairwell was painted in the summer of 1932. The fresco was a gift from architect Lars Backer and depicts “the artist’s thorny path to the heights”.
Per Krohg, The artist’s thorny path to the heights, 1932
1937 - 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.
Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts
The Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts has always been anchored 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. It was necessary for Kunstnernes Hus to rent these rooms to keep the doors open.
A class at the Art Academy at Kunstnernes Hus, Fritz Røed, Sivert Donald, Solveig Schafferer and Jon Ekeland are among the students, late 1940's
1942 - Kunstnernes Hus 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.
During the war the exhibition halls became storage spaces
1945 - Opening after the war
The Germans capitulated in May 1945, with Kunstnernes Hus finally reopening on November 22nd after much tidying up by German soldiers. The opening of the Autumn Exhibition on that date was a symbol of Norway’s artistic status following five years of suppression and isolation. The occupation’s “artistic front” would now become a “work front” to rebuild our national culture life.
The janitor and his wife in the foyer space after the war
1945 - 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."
1949 - "The riddle of the Etruscans"
"The riddle of the Etruscans" is 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 unfortunately an economic disaster.
The riddle of the Etruscans, 1949
1960 - Non-Figuration
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.
Arnold Haukeland in the upper exhibition floors, 1961
1965 - 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.
1967 - Morten Krohg
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.
Morten Krohg, exhibition in the ground floor, 1967
1968 - Irma Salo Jæger
The year after Morten Krohg was presented, was the year Irma Salo Jæger has an exhibition of her newest paintings as well as large, mobile "shovel-sculptures" made of aluminium, acrylglass og lightfilter.
1968 - Andy Warhol
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.
Andy Warhol in the upper exhibition halls, November 1968
1969 - Siri Aurdal
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)
Siri Aurdal talks to a journalist from Aftenposten in the upper exhibition halls. Note the globe lamps that have since then been replaced!
1970 - 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.
Members of UKS, among which Per Kleiva (lower left), 1970
1974 - 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.
1976 - Cuba
Cuba shows an artistic project in Norway for the very first time with 162 works by Cuban artists. The introduction in the catalogue was written by Fidel Castro himself.
1981 - Solidarity
A Norwegian premiere: Kunstnernes Hus hosts a large exhibition of Palestinian artists in November, organised by PLO, in solidarity for Palestine.
1986 - International artists
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.
Our history will be updated with more stories, anecdotes and dates on an ongoing basis. Keep checking back here!