Written by: Ljiljana Maletin Vojvodić //
It can be confidently stated that the Astrup Fearnley Museum (Astrup Fearnley Museet), which is celebrating a significant anniversary with the exhibition „Before Tomorrow – Astrup Fearnley Museet 30 Years“, from June 22nd to October 8th, 2023, is not only a cultural symbol of contemporary Norway but also an artwork in itself. Built with glass and wood, surrounded by water, this architectural project by Renzo Piano, with two massive exhibition pavilions and a glass roof structure, reminiscent of ship sails, forms a distinctive, organic whole with its surroundings.
The museum building was designed with the intention of not resembling monumental, detached gallery-mausoleums, but rather a space where art intersects with everyday life in an unassuming manner. Thus, visitors to the museum can have coffee, enjoy pastries, and have lunch; they can purchase books, catalogs, souvenirs at the museum shop; they can swim, read a book, or bask in the sun in front of the museum. All of this is done with the idea that sooner or later, they will fall in love with contemporary art, as the architect who designed the museum emphasizes: „Art makes people better, and art spaces make the city a more beautiful place to live.“
In the courtyard of the Astrup Fearnley Museum, there is a well-maintained garden and a beach area, while in the museum park, sculptures by renowned artists such as Anish Kapoor, Louise Bourgeois, and Frank Stella are displayed.
Genesis of the Collection and Museum
The Astrup Fearnley Collection is one of the most extensive collections of international contemporary art in Europe. Starting in the 1960s, Hans Rasmus Astrup began to assemble a collection that emphasized the artists themselves, rather than historical periods or stylistic trends, making him one of the most active and influential collectors in the world.
The collection comprises numerous works by significant international artists (such as Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Matthew Barney, Cindy Sherman, Tracey Emin, Shirin Neshat, Olafur Eliasson, etc.) as well as Norwegian artists (Bjarne Melgaard), and it is continuously refreshed with new works, documenting the development and complexity of various contemporary artistic practices.
The museum was established in 1993 with the goal of making „top-quality works of contemporary art more accessible to the general public.“ Following Astrup’s passing in 2021, the Astrup Fearnley Collection was donated to a non-profit foundation whose sole purpose is to further develop and present this collection to a wider audience.
The celebration of the museum’s anniversary is, therefore, also a tribute to the museum’s founder, Hans Rasmus Astrup, who through this generous gift made it possible for the collection to be accessible to all.
The Museum Today
Since 2012, the Astrup Fearnley Collection has been located on the edge of the Oslo fjord in a building designed by the recipient of the prestigious Pritzker Prize, Italian architect Renzo Piano, known for the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Kansai International Airport in Osaka, and The Shard building in London.
In addition to its permanent exhibition, the museum hosts several thematic, group, and individual exhibitions throughout the year. Many of the significant artworks in the collection are by American artists (such as Koons, Barney, Wool, and D. Colen, etc) or artists inspired by them. As a result, a part of the Astrup Fearnley Collection represents one of the significant collections of contemporary American art in Europe.
However, despite its focus on the most renowned globally recognized names, the museum consistently creates space for dialogue with the Norwegian art scene. Furthermore, it increasingly demonstrates an interest in contemporary European, African, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and other visual arts.
Still considered by many as the most famous and wealthiest living artist, a central figure in the Young British Artists movement, Damien Hirst continues to be one of the most represented artists in the museum’s collection. His iconic works, such as sheep, cow, and calf preserved in formaldehyde, „God Alone Knows“ and „Mother and Child Divided,“ are part of the collection but not currently exhibited in the „Before Tomorrow“ exhibition. However, his other renowned works are on display.
Exhibition in Honor of the 30th Anniversary of the Museum
In the exhibition „Before Tomorrow – Astrup Fearnley Museet 30 Years,“ curated by Owen Martin and Solveig Øvstebø, visitors can behold some of the most famous works from the collection. However, as indicated, they can also explore hidden treasures and the latest museum acquisitions spread across the museum’s two buildings.
The selected works represent various time periods and highlight several key directions that have shaped the identity of the museum’s collection and the museum itself.
The following artists are represented in the exhibition: Allora & Calzadilla, Janine Antoni, Synnøve Anker Aurdal, Michael Armitage, Vanessa Baird, Matthew Barney, Per Inge Bjørlo, Mark Bradford, Bjørn Carlsen, Paul Chan, Trisha Donnelly, Gardar Eide Einarsson, Nicole Eisenman, Ida Ekblad, Elmgreen & Dragset, Matias Faldbakken, Fischli & Weiss, Georgia Gardner Gray, Robert Gober, Nan Goldin, Félix González-Torres, Douglas Gordon, Gunnar S. Gundersen, Shilpa Gupta, Rachel Harrison, Mona Hatoum, Annika von Hausswolff, Damien Hirst, Sergej Jensen, Olav Christopher Jenssen, Rashid Johnson, Martin Kippenberger, R. B. Kitaj, Jeff Koons, Louise Lawler, Klara Lidén, Glenn Ligon, Mikael Lo Presti, Ibrahim Mahama, Helen Marten, Paul McCarthy, Julie Mehretu, Bjarne Melgaard, Eline Mugaas, Joar Nango, Bruce Nauman, Shirin Neshat, Ann Cathrin November Høibo, Albert Oehlen, Frida Orupabo, Laura Owens, Asal Peirovi, Raymond Pettibon, Sigmar Polke, Walter Price, Charles Ray, Jason Rhoades, Torbjørn Rødland, Cinga Samson, Cindy Sherman, Gedi Sibony, Josh Smith, Thomas Struth, Børre Sæthre, Wolfgang Tillmans, Fredrik Værslev, Kara Walker, Jeff Wall, Christopher Wool, Yang Fudong
The exhibition „Before Tomorrow“ includes the presentation of several large installations and video works from the Astrup Fearnley Collection. Among them, the installation „My Private Sky“ by Norwegian artist Børre Saethre stands out, which was first exhibited at the museum in 2001 and has recently become a part of the Astrup Fearnley Collection. This large-scale installation creates an environment that is both alluring and unsettling, drawing inspiration from the history of film and the science fiction genre.