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So what about museum curation in the Nordic countries

November 4, 2009

A while back I wondered about love in the Nordic countries. I have since been in a Nordic country; Norway, more precisely.

Most of my visit was centred in Oslo, and I managed to get quite a good look into a variety of its museums – with the added happy discovery that most of them are free in the low season. Some of the things I have seen (the two versions of The Scream, for instance) are truly worth a mention in further posts. But I thought I would start by describing an oddity that I encountered in most of the museums I visited: an undoubtedly peculiar sense of how collections should be curated and laid out.

In the Folk Museum (also called Cultural Museum), for instance, exhibitions ranged from the permanent, open-air collection of typical Norwegian huts, so as to represent all the regions of Norway, to a show called “Back to the 80s” which welcomed you with the video of “Take on me” on loop. In other parts of the exhibition building, a detailed show on folk costumes, and an exhibition of portraits of priests which may or may not have been connected to the exhibition  on churches furnishing on the floor below.

One of the huts in the open-air section of the Folk Museum

In the Historical Museum, only after having seen the whole first room (dedicated to medieval Norway) did we realise it was part of a collection called “From Ice Age to Christianity”. A few rooms down the line, anyway, “The treasure room” (with its separate catalogue on sale in the museum shop) syncopates the flow of the main exhibition.

One room in the “From Ice Age to Christianity” exhibition, the one about the Viking Age, stands out because of the decidedly odd figures populating its showcase glass displays. You can see here Odin in the spearhead case.

What's this case about? Odin or the Viking spearheads?

Perhaps less colourfully and inexplicably bizarre, but in the Munch Museum the temporary exhibition about James Whistler too was rather unusually located in the middle of the permanent collection – although visually identified by the different wall colour.

Although more often than not I found these “curatorial” choices utterly confusing, I took them as enjoyable oddities. In a city where it is embarrassingly easy to get around with only one word of the local language, perhaps the puzzling way in which museum exhibits were presented to me was a welcome challenge.

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