June 5, 2015: The Munch Museum in Oslo

We have, thus far, blown off all of our potential sightseeing time this week just from being so tired and the realities of travel and work. It was just unrealistic for us to try to get out and do anything in Oslo between being exhausted from getting to Norway and needing to be able to handle getting ourselves back to New York coming up on Sunday. So this week was a loss as far as seeing Norway in any real way. But we are pretty sure that we will be coming through here on a regular basis so we are not too concerned about that and we got a change to get to know the local neighbourhood a little bit. Not the touristy kind of stuff but at least we have some nice exposure to this little corner of things which, in many ways, is the better thing to see anyway.

But today, knowing that we have very little chance to do much of anything in Oslo, we made a real effort to get up early and get out and see some stuff with the girls. From the maps we could tell that we are just a tiny bit south of one of the city’s famous parks and, most importantly, the park that contains the Edvard Munch Museum which Dominica has been wanting to see. It has been many years since our last attempt at taking the girls to an art museum, the last one was in Colmar, France in May, 2012. The girls are a lot older now and we are pretty sure that they will both appreciate the art a lot more now. So that was our chosen destination for the day.

We had a quick breakfast at the house and then walked north to the park. On our way through the park the girls discovered a small playground. They have not had a playground to use since we left Spain so we gave them a few minutes to burn off some energy and told them that if they were good that we would stop back at the playground on the way back from the museum. We knew that they needed some time to play now, before the museum, or they would just be too squirmy to handle it.

The playground was small but we were the only people there. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, perfect for being out and about in Norway. The sun is practically endless here. It doesn’t set until after eleven at night and it is up around three. It’s mind boggling and there are weeks to go until we hit the longest days of the year. And we are not “that far north.” I can’t even imagine what it must be like in the more northern Norwegian cities!

This playground was primarily a little pirate ship to play on for imaginative play and a long slide build into a slope of the ground that was long but slow. It was all really designed for younger kids. Liesl was a bit old for it but she is so good at imaginative play that she was perfectly happy and both girls liked the long slide. So they had fun and we had a nice little place to sit in the park.

The Munch Museum was not far away at all. It was a tiny walk to get there. The museum is really not very large and is quite focused. Very nice, however, and well done. There is a cafe there and there was a fair number of people at the museum. Certainly quite busy.

We totally lucked out and completely by chance the Munch Museum was hosting a large collection of paintings from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam with the majority of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings on display! This was pretty amazing since we did not know that this was the case, had not planned on this in any way and Van Gogh is not just Dominica’s favourite painter but also the one that the girls know best. Liesl and Luciana are both already familiar with a large number of Van Gogh’s works partially from home schooling and partially because of the large exposure to them from watching Doctor Who.

The presentation at the museum was to show Van Gogh and Munch side by side in what we are pretty sure was some graduate student’s comparative thesis. The museum did a good job of presenting the similarities, differences, relationships and walking us through the parallel lives of the two artists who lived at the same time, went to the same places, have so much in common in their works and never met one another.

We started by going to the film that is shown as an introduction by the museum. But this was not very gripping for the girls and Luciana was not prepared to sit through that so we only got to watch about half of it. Thankfully the real paintings and being able to walk around worked and both girls did really well.

The museum had little sticker strips and maps for the girls. The stickers each had a small portion of a painting on them and you had to walk around and try to figure out which painting the portion was from and then put that sticker into the map to show that you had found it. It was just an activity, there was no prize or anything, but it was effective at engaging the girls. Both of them were able to find some things on their own and none of it was really easy. So they were pretty busy with that.

The Van Gogh works were really impressive and we had a great time getting to see them. Dominica could not contain herself the entire time; she was so excited to be getting to see these paintings in person. What we discovered, though, is that the Munch works are not very good. In fact, none of them were particularly impressive and it is really surprising that anyone goes to see his paintings. Unlike Van Gogh’s which were well lit and obviously very masterful and intentional, the Munch works were kept less lit, presumably to make it more difficult to really determine just how sloppy they were, and they really looked like when successful were not intentional – like a child who paints many, many paintings and eventually gets one or two that are passable but never appear to have a command of the medium and are not truly expressing anything.

The most disappointing “painting” of all was “The Scream”, Munch’s most famous work. It turns out that when shown in books, prints or on television that it is heavily retouched. The original is kept very much in the shadows and appears to be a sloppy crayon drawing, nothing like what you see of it elsewhere. It really looks like something that an elementary school kid drew, with crayon, in art class to be displayed at the elementary school art show. It’s a very good work for a fifth grader, but even by high school it would not be something that you would be especially proud of. We were quite shocked by how staggeringly bad Munch’s works were, not just as a corpus of work but famous pieces individually too. Picasso, by contrast, did a tremendous amount of work and there are plenty of pieces that anyone would likely hate but he has so many that show incredibly mastery that there is no question that what he was painting was intentional and he was in control of the finished product. Munch, I feel, was just playing at being an artist and somehow got lucky. Very much the Emperor’s New Clothes. No one wants to say how little he was a viable artist, but everyone must be thinking it.

The museum was a great experience, even through Munch’s works turned out to be so poor, but with Van Gogh there it was a museum trip of a lifetime and we are so glad that we did it. It was quite small so probably only took about an hour to complete. Once we were done we hit the gift shop and got a few small items for the girls like a Munch colouring book, a multi-colour pen, etc.

On the walk back to the apartment we went to the park and let the girls play for a while. We did not have a lot of time because I needed to get back to the apartment to get to work but we were able to let them play and it was a nice afternoon.

On the walk back to the apartment we went through the local subway station so we knew where it was and how to get there for tomorrow when we plan to actually get out and see Oslo since it is Saturday and I do not have to work. We don’t travel again until Sunday so tomorrow is a completely free day for us. We also found a bar just up the street from the apartment that had a NY Mets sign in the window. Very odd. The Norwegian obsession with all things American is disturbing. Why anyone living in Oslo would have the slightest concern for the performance of the New York Mets is beyond me.

Back to the apartment and I worked all afternoon and evening. Since it is Friday I did not have to work quite so late into the night. Looking forward to tomorrow and getting to see the city a bit.

As every night here in Oslo, Liesl and I got the small room and shared the slightly larger bed there. Dominica and Luciana took the large room with the smaller, separate beds.