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, both when it came to the development of the base and the height of the building - which was to be 15.4 metres to the cornice. There were to be skylights in the exhibition spaces and the location of the entrance was also fixed, meaning that the building had to be adapted to its surroundings. The architectural design competition garnered a lot of attention. The sixty-two design proposals submitted were displayed in an exhibition that was covered by most of the capital’s newspapers. 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. Major changes were made to the original proposal, with it becoming much simpler, marking the path towards functionalism.
The building is cast concrete. Externally, the uppermost solid section is clad with bricks arranged in a pattern to demonstrate that they are not load-bearing. The lower section of the building is painted white with a wide awning forming a roof over the terrace running the length of the façade facing Slottsparken. 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.
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.
1931 - The lions
Ørnulf Bast’s bronze lions outside the main entrance were completed in 1931. They were a gift from wholesaler Alf Bjercke. Reliefs over the doors to the skylit spaces “Vår” and “Høst” were made by Niels Larsen Stevns. The reliefs are a gift from the artist’s widow in connection with the Danish painter’s memorial exhibition in 1947.
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”.
1937 - Guernica to Norway
Guernica by Pablo Picasso arrived at Kunstnernes Hus in December 1937. The painting was shipped to Norway immediately after it was exhibited at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1936. Arbeiderbladet said that the work “covers a whole wall and is very difficult to transport. It had to be removed from its canvas stretcher and wrapped around a wooden roller that was several metres long”. 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.
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 to rent these rooms to the Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts to keep the centre open. Fritz Røed, Sivert Donald, Solveig Schafferer and Jon Ekeland are among the students in the photo below from the late 40s.
1940 - The war
Arne Ekeland’s sensational exhibition, which opened on 29 March 1940, was presented in the press as “an earthquake in Norwegian art”. Before the exhibition closed, another earthquake was experienced in the form of the occupation of Norway on April 9th. Cultural activities did not cease immediately, but the class struggle depicted with such passion in Ekeland’s paintings was no longer that topical – what was required now was national solidarity against an external enemy, even at an artistic level.
No autumn exhibition (Høstutstilling) was held in 1940 or in any of the war years.
1942 - Kunstnernes Hus seized
Kunstnernes Hus tried to keep its exhibition activities going despite the occupation, but during the winter of 1941, the professors Axel Revold and Jean Heiberg were dismissed; the Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts was forced to continue activities illegally in other premises. 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.
1945 - Kunstnernes Hus reopens
The Germans capitulated in May 1945, with Kunstnernes Hus finally reopening on November 22nd after a lot of tidying up. The opening of Kunstnernes Hus and the autumn exhibition (Høstutstillingen), 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.
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." The Nordic co-operation came to a great extent to make its mark on the coming years, among other things, at a number of exhibitions at Kunstnernes Hus.
1946 - Retrospective exhibitions
With regard to Norwegian art in the 10 to 20 first post-war years, it must be said that Kunstnernes Hus' so called "museum" function was very well taken care of. Retrospective exhibitions of deserved late artists stood highest in line. This tradition began with the Debritz exhibition in 1946 and remained throughout the 50s.
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 has any exhibition in Norway received such overwhelming coverage in the mass media. Although the visitor numbers were high, the exhibition unfortunately became an economic disaster.
1959 - "Terningen"
The fifties' champions of an abstract or non-figurative art in Norway seldom left to the prominent halls of Kunstnernes Hus. They tried to team up as a group, and in 1956 they had to resort to the private art trade to show their first major joint show "Terningen" ("The Dice"). At the end of the 50's, the tenancy with Brukskunst ceased and Kunstnernes Hus entered into an agreement with the managing director Einar Johansen who was to present sales exhibitions. The so-called commercial space Permanenten was a kind of state in the state: It was not a purely private business, but neither artist-controlled. In theory, however, the board would always approve the exhibitions. "Terningen" was shown at Kunstnernes Hus in 1959.
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. In general, one could argue that what was non-figurative interpretations of Norwegian nature won most acceptance. 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. Following this, several solo exhibitions of international and Norwegian modern artists followed. "Modern art" was made acceptable.
Our history will be updated with more stories, anecdotes and dates on an ongoing basis. Keep checking back here!