Today I was kindly taken by my friend Siv to the Stavanger Kunstmusum, partially as I make a point of trying to visit art galleries when I travel to view the collections and exhibits, and also to monitor the current deterioration in what passes for public art collections these days.
To be honest, as I approach the 1960's looking futuristic domed building, I wasn't hopeful that I would be inspired. Thankfully I was wrong. Yes, the obligatory dire and pretentious video installations are there, along with the usual boring feminist victim complexes, but fortunately this tiresome rubbish did not dominate the experience. As public art collections go, the Stavanger Kunstmuseum contains a healthy balance of contemporary (conceptual art) and a broad scope of Norwegian paintings from the early 1800's to the present.
The paintings on display were all a first for me, as I was not that familiar with Norwegian landscape painting. As one would expect there are sweeping romantic panoramic vistas rendered in dramatic light, and the influence of the American Hudson Valley School is fairly evident.
Other paintings are akin to a Nordic homage to English Victorian painters and the Turner influence is obvious. As is the American style of late Victorian/early 20th Century works, these oil paintings and watercolours, presented a taste of Norway with styles comparable to American painters of the same era(s) such as Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper. Later styles of Norwegian paintings on display are similar to German Expressionism, but with an interesting sense of motion, if not brooding theatrics which were frankly some of the best examples of mid 20th Century paintings I have yet discovered.
On the more modern front, there is a solitary rusting tall human sculpture in a blank room by the English artist Anthony Gormley who has created numerous similar sculptures which are located all over the city of Stavanger. The 'ghosts of people who never existed' as I have come to name these haunting figures, and I think it is one of the most impressive and moving urban art installations around. They cause you think about the past lives who lived, worked, loved and lost during the life and times of the city.
To my shame I knew little about Norwegian art other than my admiration for Edvard Munch whom we are all familiar with, but after visiting the Kunstmuseum in Stavanger I am eager to know more. All in all, an impressive collection within a modest space. Admission is free and the 1960's style futuristic atrium/entrance also doubles as a gift store and coffee shop. My friend Siv remarked that the museum attracts a 'sophisticated' crowd, but it did not feel like that today maybe because it was Sunday and more families were around.