September 26, 2022

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- When the audience indicates that artwork in our collection may contain problematic content, discussion is welcome

– When the audience indicates that artwork in our collection may contain problematic content, discussion is welcome

Recently, there has been a lot of media attention around Axel Revolds Plaster “Geography” from 1927. Work, with two frescoes in a row Alf Rolfsen And the for every crouagean integral part of the building that houses Herslip High School.

On February 7, board member spacesAnd the Rana Issa, to speak at VårtOslo to remove the work. As mentioned by many, wall painting is a form of painting where paint is applied to wet plaster directly on the wall, making it difficult, and nearly impossible, to remove the artwork without damaging it. The work is run by the Oslo Municipal Art Group, and we welcome dialogue about the works in our group.

Colonial glorification motive?

Geography features a young boy who imagines traveling and discovering the world. His thoughts fall on historical figures such as Christopher Columbus and the discovery of America, Henry Morton Stanley’s voyages in Africa and the Nansen and “Fram” expeditions in the Arctic.

Today we see that the motives can be linked to the Western colonization of other countries and peoples, and this is what sparked the controversy that began with the position of Rana Issa. Both Stanley and Columbus appear today as the people who were behind the oppressive treatment of people in Africa and America.

Issa reads the image as glorifying colonialism and racism and believes it is offensive to students in the school who often have a multicultural background. It is difficult to answer whether Revold himself had romantic fantasies of colonialism and stereotypical and inhumane notions of indigenous peoples.

It is clear that the values ​​prevailing in society in general are also assimilated by artists and can be expressed uncritically, and even glorified, in art. In any case, there will be debate about how much the artist’s intent weighs in such a discussion and how much the viewer’s experience weighs.

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When art appears in the public space, we as the audience are involved in creating the meaning of the artwork, so the artist’s supposed good intentions alone are not critical to how the significance of the work is assessed. We must also ask questions about the effectiveness of the work, which is one of the important questions raised by the two letters of Issa.

Discussion welcome

Image Revold is run by the Oslo municipal art collection, which is part of Common Art in Oslo, and we have the responsibility to manage art on behalf of all Oslo residents, regardless of how long they have lived in the city and their cultural background. When the audience indicates that artwork in our collection could contain problematic content, we welcome that discussion. In general, we welcome all discussions, debates, and diversity of views on the works in our group into the public discourse. It enriches the conversation about the art we have in our city and adds new aspects and new value to it.

The value of art, as we see it, is an important component of democracy, and in this sense any discussion of artworks will help stimulate public discourse. Visual art is a separate form of expression and can thus contribute to giving form and space for expression that other art forms, such as literature and theater, cannot formulate in the same way. However, this does not mean that all forms of artistic expression are interesting or contribute constructively to public discourse or that artists do not have blind spots, as the current debate shows.

In the discussion at Axel Revold’s Week, a lot of interesting information and considerations emerged, including in a post by Jan Wahlberg. A post by Mikael D. Mack also contains interesting and relevant views, not least the fact that we who wield so much power should not invalidate voices who have different views on art than we professionals.

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It looks outdated

As we can see, the discussion about the Revold mural has some nuances that may be useful to be aware of.. Like other publicly owned art collections, the Oslo municipal art collection is the primary concern for art preservation based on ICOM Museum Ethics Regulations. What distinguishes the Oslo municipal art collection from most others is that we keep the art in rooms not specifically designed to display and protect art.

We place artworks in businesses that have their own purposes and missions, such as schools, kindergartens, and health care homes. Here, art is in direct contact with the processes and activities of these social institutions, which change over time. The school of today, for example, is clearly different from the school of the 1930s.

artwork it Axel Revold’s fresco “Geography” It becomes, unlike school, historical. It seems outdated in terms of content because it shows attitudes that are inconsistent with today’s values. When such a work of art is not in a museum, allowing a historical approach, but is located in a school, conflict arises. Artwork and everyday school life are not in agreement.

room color artwork

Artwork in public spaces is always part of the environments and contexts that help color the understanding of art. It is not only about physical spaces, but also about spaces of difference of opinion. These rooms – physical, mental, cultural, and political – are the exhibition rooms of the Oslo municipality’s art collection. Here, art is in close contact with societal changes in a different and more direct way than works of art in museums.

The fact that large parts of the Oslo municipality’s art collection are in the community – not in museums – requires publication that highlights the context in which the artworks are part of. Approaching works of art in public spaces: seeing, experiencing, thinking about them, engaging, being disturbed by them or simply being disturbed, cannot relate to works of art in isolation, but to the contexts in which they are placed, where they are located, what time periods they belong to to it and what changes the original environment has undergone. Artwork dedicated to one place can easily become part of a completely different environment without moving the artwork. The reality has only changed.

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Art in public spaces does not enjoy the institutional protection and dissemination that art in museums and galleries do. At the same time, it is available to everyone who travels in the relevant room, regardless of what experiences they bring with them.

exciting and rewarding

Issa’s text highlights an issue relating to art in public spaces that is difficult to definitively resolve, but which must be constantly discussed, negotiated and renegotiated. What can we do to create better relationships between art and the public and invite open discussion and thinking?

The art collection in the municipality of Oslo is constantly working to create good links and dialogues with companies that borrow art from the collection and not least with those who own the artworks, ie the residents of Oslo.

We find it exciting and rewarding to work with art in public spaces and the interface in which that art is located, which effectively creates relationships between art and society. We can always improve in publishing, management, how we work with the purchase and production of artwork, how we work with the diversity of artistic expression and representation. Therefore, we have ambition and a willingness to listen to the input we receive through public debate. As directors and liaison to the art group in the municipality of Oslo, we welcome the contribution of Rana Issa.