Despite being a smaller city than many of the world’s leading art centres, Oslo has an impressive reputation when it comes to galleries and specialist auction houses. They are testament to a city that works hard to recognise the work of past and present native artists and which also pays homage to international creatives. The city’s exhibition spaces offer visitors the opportunity to learn about Norwegian art history as well as to experience the work of the best contemporary names, providing valuable insight for anyone who is looking to invest in a piece of art while in Oslo.
The gallery district
Tjuvholmen, a former shipyard, has been regenerated to become Oslo’s gallery district. Now a thriving scene of art and culture, Tjuvholmen is home to celebrated establishments such as the Astrup Fearnley gallery: designed by internationally renowned architect Renzo Piano, it focuses on international contemporary art and has an excellent collection of works by Damien Hirst, Anselm Kiefer, Sigmar Polke and Jeff Koons.
Elsewhere in Tjuvholmen you will find Galleri Brandstrup which specialises in pieces by high-profile Norwegian artists, Galleri Haakon which focuses on Norwegian and international artists, and Gerhardsen Gerner (Nordic and international contemporary artists) and for Oslo’s largest collection of prints, head to Galleri Fineart. The artist Peder Lund has a gallery in Oslo, as does Pushwagner, a controversial pop artist whose vibrant works deal with issues of modern cultural excess.
The big hitters
To put such contemporary names into context, a visit to the National Gallery is essential. With a strong focus on Norwegian artists and the best collection of Edvard Munch paintings in Oslo, it provides a clear overview of Norwegian art history. It also boasts the nation-defining painting ‘Brudeferd i Hardanger’ by Adolf Tidemand and Hans Fredrik Gude who are recognised as two of Norway’s most important 19th-century artists, a selection of Nikolai Astrup’s colourful woodcut prints depicting Norwegian landscape scenes, and the experimental small-scale paintings of Peder Balke.
Taking their lead from the Norwegian masters, a host of dynamic artists command considerable attention in the modern and contemporary sphere. Håkon Bleken is one of the most prominent Norwegian artists of the last 40 years and has had immense influence on contemporary art while Per Kleiva is credited with taking pop culture in an explicitly political direction.
Names to know
Other names of note include AK Dolven, who recently exhibited in the UK alongside fellow Norwegian Peder Balke; Dag Erik Elgin, whose paintings explore art history and visual culture; Fredrik Raddum, whose absurdist work deals with modern man’s identity; and Odd Nerdrum, a self-styled ‘kitsch-painter’. And don’t miss works by Inger Sitter, a pioneer of Norwegian abstract art, she is one of the country’s most revered female artists.
Where to buy
To make a piece of Oslo’s art history your own, head to the Blomqvist auction house, one of the best places in the city to view and buy art from different periods. It frequently has prints by Munch and Astrup, as well as an impressive Scandinavian furniture and design department. Alternatively, Oslo Kunsthandel was started by three experts, all with previous experience at Blomqvist. It deals in historic and contemporary art and aims to create a social meeting place in its gallery as part of the buying experience. With a similar feel, Kunstnernes Hus, which is found in one the city's most beautiful buildings, has a popular restaurant and holds an annual sale featuring works by artists who have not exhibited before.
Other places to seek out for unique pieces include Standard (Oslo), which offers consultations by appointment and specialises in promoting contemporary Norwegian artists; Galleri Riis which represents Olav Christopher Jenssen, one of Norway’s most important contemporary artists; 1857, an artist-run exhibition space specialising in work by young artists; and OSL Contemporary for pieces by conceptual artists including AK Dolven and Dag Erik Elgin.
Aside from the many innovative artist-run galleries and studio schemes in Oslo, there are also several free and public art spaces around the city. The famous Vigeland museum and park is a stunning destination, whose 200 statues by Gustav Vigeland represent a life’s work. Meanwhile, at Ekebergparken, over 31 sculptures are dotted amongst panoramic city views – a vista that supposedly inspired Munch’s Scream; the park is an ever-evolving tribute to some of the most innovative artists working today.
And for a final artistic flourish, don’t miss Grünerløkka, in the east of the city. With a youthful, hipster feel, this area has become an important artistic destination in recent years and is one the best places in which to soak up the artistic vibes of the city. Centred around the Akerselva river, Grünerløkka is home to several contemporary, artist-run galleries, performance spaces and studios, including the not-to-be-missed TM51 and Galleri Vulkan. And if you’re visiting Oslo at the right time, you may be lucky enough to catch the seasonal S9, whose spring exhibitions are always impressive. But whenever you’re here, you will be guaranteed world-class art in impressive venues.