A rendering of “A House to Die In.” Photo: Snøhetta.

Bjarne Melgaard’s Plans to Build Home Near Edvard Munch’s Studio Spark Debate

Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard’s plans to build a massive home near the former site of Edvard Munch’s Oslo villa have sparked controversy over how to best preserve the legacy of the renowned expressionist painter, reports the New York Times. Although the villa was razed in 1960, Munch’s winter studio still stands amid the trees depicted in many of his later canvases and is now a tourist attraction. In the coming weeks, Norway’s directorate for cultural heritage will decide whether to permit Melgaard’s proposed project, known as “A House to Die In,” a collaboration between Melgaard and Snøhetta, the architecture firm that designed the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York, among other high-profile projects.

The building—which looks like a massive amorphous piece of obsidian sitting atop white sculptures of animals—is partly inspired by the homes of drug lords and includes a “drug room” intended to induce feelings of vertigo. While Melgaard considers the project a creative blend of art and architecture, as well as an opportunity to subvert Scandinavian architectural conventions, members of a local artists’ colony believe the building would detract from the older artist’s legacy. “This is the only place where Munch lived and worked for thirty years,” Halvard Haugerud, an artist who has lived in the colony on Munch’s former property for twenty years, told the Times. “We just want to keep what’s left of Munch.”

Munch (1863–1944) is highly revered in Norway and considered an important part of the country’s cultural heritage; a new building for the Munch Museum, which will cost more than $300 million, is under construction on Oslo’s waterfront.  

Melgaard contends that homophobia is a driving factor in the resistance to his project. Anti-gay graffiti was found on the foundations of one proposed site. “They are not interested in gay men or women taking up too much space in our society,” Melgaard said. Hans Henrick Klouman, chairman of the board of the Edvard Munch Studio Foundation, said the issue was purely about protecting Munch’s legacy. Melgaard, who is no stranger to controversy, maintains that talk of Munch’s legacy is “ridiculous.” If the project receives approval from the country’s heritage-conservation authority, it would go to a building authority and then to the city council for final authorization. For more on Melgaard’s work, see Travis Jeppesen’s Critics’ Pick of his collaborative exhibition in Oslo with Sverre Bjertnes.