"It`s typically Norwegian to be good! "[1]

A catalog essay by Anders Eiebakke, written as a curator for the Norwegian pavillion at the Biennial in Melbourne. [For an interview with Anders Eiebakke click here]



You`re too Cool to be Cool, you have acted like a fool, do you have something to say, I won`t listen anyway - there is nothing to say - no way[2]


1) No Norwegian curator has ever managed to organise the artistic arrangement of any event of significance outside of Scandinavia, if one ignores Jon Ove Steihaugs curator work in the Nordic pavilion at the Venice biennial in 1997. Norway has in fact only two professional curators, Åsmund Thorkildsen and Jon Ove Steihaug. There was indeed no course in contemporary art at the Institute of Art History at the University of Oslo until the mid 1990s.

In Oslo, the capital city of Norway, there is a difference of over 10 years in life expectancy between inhabitants in certain eastern and western city districts. Norway, in the post-war period has played a role as the world`s moral guardian, but at the same time also carried on a secret war against ethnic minorities, which has included forced lobotomies and castration on completely healthy people. A country with a democratic constitution where the secret services, in co-operation with the dominant social democratic party, have organised large-scale surveillance and persecution of those with different opinions.

Norway has a prominent international position in its peace work - and at the same time sells weapons for Turkey`s wholesale murders in Kurdistan. The capital city of Norway, Oslo, (with its approx. half a million inhabitants) had a surplus of over US$ 750 million in 1998 - but allows its elder citizens to break their legs on slippery winter pavements as the city authorities cannot be bothered to grit them.

Oslo has the highest incidence of deaths from drug overdoses per inhabitant in Western Europe, but refuses treatment to drug addicts which has been effective in other European countries. Norway could afford to re-equip its armed forces at the end of the 1990s, but did not have enough money to take action to reduce one of the longest hospital waiting lists among western nations.

Did you know that there is a great chance that you will die before you receive treatment if you are unfortunate enough to contract cancer in Norway? Or that, in contrast to Portugal for example, there is no public funding for dental care at all? Or what about the fact that mega-rich shipowners do not pay any tax, while the rent for a small poor-standard apartment in Oslo is equivalent to almost 10 % of the maximum annual student loan available.

That`s something else again than the seal and whale hunting which ought to arouse world opinion against Norway. It is the treatment of individuals which is the worst. When seal hunting inspector Odd Lindberg compiled documentary evidence that Norwegian seal hunters had committed atrocities against seal pups in the 1980s, a process was started against him that resulted in his ruination and he was forced into exile. Today, Lindberg and his family live in Sweden, having lost absolutely everything. In a country that is regarded as particularly democratic, the incumbent government pursues a propaganda campaign against the gay community, well aware that approximately one third of young homosexual Norwegians have attempted to take their own lives.

2) There are two - two - permanently-employed art critics in Norway. No Norwegian critic, with the exception of the Fluxus specialist Ina Blom, has an international public outside of Scandinavian. Blom, known among other things for her texts in Frieze, a while ago received notification form her culture editor in Aftenposten, Norway`s largest morning paper, that she was no longer required to write for the paper.

Until recently Norway was one of the world`s most nationalistic polities not at war. Today, Norway is now known as one of the countries which has gone to war against Yugoslavia - despite the fact that Norway`s prime minister, following the first air strikes, denied categorically that it was a question of war, but rather one of a "limited military operation". Along with Austria, France and certain Eastern European countries, Norway has an extreme right-wing party with an electoral support of 15-20%. Incredibly enough, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry sent a formal protest to the UN when a UN report pointed out, absolutely correctly, that the growth of this party was linked to an increase in racism and right-wing extremism. Asylum seekers are harassed by racist police, and non-European immigrants are in the media spotlight because of the increasing criminality in urban areas. If a Norwegian citizen, from for example one of Oslo`s suburbs, born in Norway of Chilean parents, is arrested for violence, it is an unwritten rule that the state news broadcasts describes the person in question as a "Norwegian citizen of foreign origin".

3) Of the few Norwegian artists who have had major international success, only Bjarne Melgaard and Odd Nerdrum are resident in Norway, the others live in Berlin, Paris and New York.

4) The three Norwegian art academies are completely without international significance. Only one single artist with major international success has ever attended one of these academies without voluntarily or involuntarily breaking-off his studies - that artist was Bjarne Melgaard. The social democratic politicians have foisted two "figurative" courses on the academy against its will.

A couple of years ago, people within Norwegian artistic circles began to talk about "the Norwegian miracle", along the same lines as the somewhat more concrete term - "The Scandinavian miracle". This in effect means that "international curators and critics" view Norway as a leading nation in the art world. Enthusiastic admiration for Glasgow`s prominent position in the mid-1990s, together with the fact that "the West`s periphery" in other places too (including Sweden and Denmark) was noticed in the larger metropolises, created the alluring thought for interests in Norwegian artistic circles to imagine Norway`s share of a general spin-off effect, where the significance of the centre sank proportionally to the success of the periphery.

5) Norway`s national contemporary art museum - the Museum of Contemporary Art in Oslo - is located in a preserved building, which previously housed the Bank of Norway. Behind the metre thick granite walls the gold gilding still adorns the columns - but the management of the museum believe that it is possible to run a professional museum in the building. The previous director did not want to know anything about "commercial American gallery art". The present director is battling with opponents in a staff who are completely incompetent and full of ambitions for power. It is a private museum, the Astrup-Fearnley Museum in Oslo, which has assumed "the leader`s jersey" in Norway.

6) There are no galleries with a strong enough financial fundament to allow them to be active on a major basis in the international market. The reason is simple. The Norwegian citizenry, as a whole, collects primarily figurative paintings. Those who do not collect figurative paintings collect lyrical-abstract images. Only a handful of collectors invest in 1990s art.

7) Norway has become, however, "the new DDR" with regard to sport, with the world`s best cross-country skiers who are suspected of doping, track athletes who have been found to have use doping - but who have been found "not guilty" in Norway, the world`s best national handball team, the world`s best alpine skiers, the world`s best national curling team... Even in athletics there are signs of "a Norwegian miracle". It is almost unbelievable; that Norway with just four million inhabitants can compete with the world`s elite - even in football! The reason for this is of course that the Norwegian state invests millions and millions, as the DDR did, in creating "Norway advertising" via sport. Sport is science - doctors and scientists work on creating new forms of doping, and ski waxing technicians have been elevated to national hero status.

8) When Olav Christopher Jenssen, the only Norwegian artist to take part in Documenta since the 1950s, applied for support from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to fund his participation, his application was turned down because the Ministry meant that Documenta 9 could not be an exhibition of any importance - because they had never heard of it, and it was only going to be organised in an insignificant provincial town in Germany. No Norwegians were represented at Documenta X. Attempts were made to rectify this blunder with the more colloboration with the national biennial committee, a constructive attempt to reinforce Norwegian art in an international context. Today, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is a positive and important power in Norwegian artistic life - and assumes responsibility where no...art (yes, you did read correctly!) - the committee that took over after the biennial committee - does not take responsibility. The administration of no...art is placed with the Museum for Contemporary Art, in spite of the fact that the museum has not demonstrated any long-term ability to work professionally with international contacts. It is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Cultural and Scientific Affairs which are directly supporting the Norwegian pavilion at the Melbourne biennial, despite the fact that this is no...art`s task.

9) "We have Edvard Munch, of course!" Yes, but "we" also have Gustav Vigeland, the Nazi collaborator who is praised for the world`s largest one-man sculpture work in Oslo. Munch`s atelier was pulled down a long time ago, but Vigeland`s atelier is now a museum. The authorities now want to tear down the building where Munch spent the first year`s of his life. The last time anyone poked into Vigeland`s relations with the occupation regime during the war, Lotte Sandberg, the influential critic at the Aftenposten newspaper, made a ferocious attack against the attempt to put a question mark against Vigeland`s name. Munch has his museum at an out-of-the-way location in Oslo, a museum with deficient security facilities. Both this museum and the National Gallery have had paintings stolen, "The Vampire" and "The Scream" respectively, by thieves simply breaking a window and snatching the paintings without being discovered. These scandals have rightly been given a great deal of media attention abroad. You should know that the Norwegian media was equally occupied by the fact that "Sinnataggen", Vigeland`s little kitsch sculpture, was subject to graffiti.

While the survivors of the 1970s within artistic organisations entered the 1990s without any artistic or political ambitions, the new crop of artists were educated at the academies according to other premises than previously. Throughout the 1990s it was clear that the most important initiatives in the Norwegian institutes of art came from the artists, in spite of the dilatoriness within Norske Billedkunstnere, the artists own professional organisation. Practically all the innovations during the 1990s were initiated by artists - magazines, galleries, organised biennials - furthermore new critics were often artists as well. In this connection, neither the public museums nor the established state financing apparatus demonstrated the maturity to be able to deal with the signs of change in Norwegian artistic production. When stock is taken at the end of the decade, it will be only the Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo and in part Riksutstillinger, the organiser of major exhibition tours, of the heavyweight national institutions that have been willing to assume responsibility for the new currents flowing through Norwegian art in the 1990s, while practically all the initiatives in the new scene have come to grief due to lack of public funding. Paradoxically enough, because Norwegian artists are, relatively speaking, in a unique position in respect of funding in the form of grants and support to individual projects with set time limits.

One of the most important art projects in Norway in the last thirteen years, the Bak-truppen performance company, is with its background in various elements of culture (theatre, visual arts, literature, music, dance) able to gain backing from theatre funds - and to perform in significant international and national theatrical contexts, as well being able to display its art form in galleries and museums. But the Bak-Truppen, in spite of its extensive activity over a number of years, has not been incorporated in the historical accounts of Norway`s national museum of contemporary art. The reason is that this museum does not concern itself with museum work associated with performance-linked activity. It would have been possible to accept this if there were other institutions which were responsible for this kind of work. UKS, the Young Artists Society, which historically is "the young artists organisation", decided in practice in the mid 1990s to abandon its role as a vocal advocate for young artists, in order to fill a vacuum by acting as a representative for "new art" - understood as art without any ponderous references in the Norwegian art institution. With economical support, a gallery in the centre of Oslo and a separate arts magazine, UKS forum for contemporary art, UKS established Norway`s first professionally curated biennial, the UKS biennial in 1996. This"heavyweight" exhibition, curated by Jon Ove Steihaug and Ingvild Henmo, demonstrated the evident distortion in the Norwegian art world when UKS, by definition a "radical" organisation, assumed responsibility for making Norwegian art more professional by adopting organisation forms which were the norm in the rest of the world. In respect of the UKS forum for contemporary art, which was Norway`s leading arts magazine under the leadership of George Morgenstern and Stian Grøgaard from the end of the 1980s to the mid 1990s, UKS has also tried to recruit new writers, to discuss theoretical problems and to air issues associated with artistic production which have often been overlooked by the other media in Norway. The UKS gallery displays and arranges at one and the same time explicit political performances, extracts of Oslo`s subculture, traditonal exhibitions, concerts, nightclub arrangements, political meetings, acts as an intermediary for art in Norway and internationally, initiates actions for art students rights, and not least administrates a part of Norwegian art history, that part which the museums neglect.

The internationalisation of Norwegian art is due to a general structural change in the young Norwegian art world. Even though the percentage of Norwegian artists with relative international exposure is greater now than in the 1980s, "internationalisation" in this context means primarily a break with a continuous Norwegian art history, founded on the idea of homogeneity in a society based on consensus between the classes, town and country, language groups and not least between the various cultural elements in Norway. The internationalisation of Norwegian art accelerated only a few years after Norway de facto had become a multi-ethnic nation - controlled by a mono-ethnic state. The internationalised art "from Norway" is to be found first and foremost on Norwegian territory in 1999, whilst it previously experienced such poor circumstances that it had to flee the country in order to survive in the metropolises.

Oslo, 9th of April, 1999 Anders Eiebakke

Attachment 1:

The following is a selection of significant events, in a Norwegian context, in art history during the 1990s:

1990 Between the rooms, a collective exhibition in Bergen`s outdoor scene

1992 Gallery Herslebsgate 10 (Until 1996) Gallery Nebb-X (Until 1996) Kitsch, the Academy of Fine Art in Trondheim`s arts magazine (later KIT)

1993 Brakstad Konsept, later G.U.N. Gallery m/Balkong (Trondheim, later Oslo)

1994 Gallery Struts (Until 1997) Network (feminist organisation, magazine) Project in Gamlebyen (PIG), a major presentation of Norwegian and Scandinavian young art in Oslo`s old town district. Hyperfoto, originally a photo magazine, rapidly changed character to become an all-round arts magazine (Until 1997)

1995 Gallery 201166 (Until 1997) Gallery Z, later M3 (Until 1997) Gallery Otto Plonk (Bergen) (Until 1997) Art Attack, a collective presentation of Scandinavian galleries and artists in Oslo Dixi, collective exhibitions of recently-educated artists One Night Stand, Scandinavian performance art in the Kunstnernes Hus

1996 Black Hole nightclub Kunstinnsikt AS (Art Insight Ltd) fax and e-mail magazine, art projects Art & Technology, Norwegian part of the international project UKS biennial, Norway`s first artistically arranged biennial Zoo lounge, video, performance art and exhibitions in a café in Oslo G.I., travelling gallery

1998 Fellessentralen, a "summary" of Norwegian 1990s art in the Kunstnernes Hus The Undercover Girl, a web project and paper magazine Yazzyd, art projects at the Jazid nightclub

Attachment 2:

In addition to the aforementioned projects, institutions and individuals, the following names are central in "the daily operations and support for young art in Norway" in 1999:
> artist / curator Micael Persson (incl. Exhibition producer backed by National Exhibitions)
> critic / artist / editor Jonas Ekeberg (incl. art critic for the Dagbladet newspaper, editor of Billedkunst)
> artist / producer Christel Sverre (numerous events, curator Zoo lounge), artist / editor Bjørn Bjarre (UKS forum)
> artist / editor Knut Åsdam (incl.. UKS forum), artist / art critic Bjønnulv Evenrud (incl. freelance writer)
> artist/initiator Harald Fetveit (incl. clubs, performance initiatives)
> artist/initiator Lotte Konow Lund (incl. curator)
> artist / exhibition co-ordinator Per Gunnar Tverrbakk (incl. Nordic Institute For Contemporary Art)
> art historian Olga Schmedling (manager of the purchasing committee of the Norwegian Arts Council)
> art historian Karin Blehr (incl. debater, curator)
> consultant Thorkild Trygstad (Norwegian Arts Council), general manager Annikken Thorsen (Bildende Kunstneres Hjelpefond)
> artist / curator Svein Flygari Johansen (incl. freelance writer, curator Zoo lounge)
> artist / gallerist Ole John Aandal (Fotogalleriet)
> psychology educated gallery owner Jan E. Nordvik (Samtidskunstforum/ Contemporary Art Forum)
> artist / general manager Kristin Bergaust (General manager of the artist run foundation Atelier Nord)
> artist / curator Søssa Jørgensen (freelance curator, Galleri m/Balkong)
> artist / curator Geir Tore Holm (board member of UKS, Galleri m/Balkong, freelance writer)
> artist/ initiator Bo Krister Wallström (incl. Chairman of UKS, in charge of the Norwegian pavilion in Melbourne)
> collector / patron Rolf Hoff (Director of the Signex company)
> artist / general manager Leif Lindberg (manager incl. the artist run design firm Pineapple Publishing AS)
> general manager / guitarist Jørn Mortensen (general manager of UKS)
> and the undersigned, artist / gallery owner / writer Anders Eiebakke (incl. Samtidskunstforum/Contemporary Arts Forum, board member of UKS and freelance writer).


[1] Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director of the WHO, previously Norwegian prime minister

[2] From the song by the Norwegian dance group, Soda, entitled "2 Cool 2 B Cool".