Gustav Vigeland was a Norwegian sculptor whose public works continue to pique people's interests today. Laid out in the Vigeland Park, his figures are in total nudity, and have turned the park into a major tourist attraction. Mr. Wolf speaks to Jarle Strømodden, the director of the Vigeland Museum & Park, who shares the people's connection with Vigeland.
The Story of Vigelandsparken
The Vigeland Park that we experience today is not quite what was originally intended. The city of Oslo acquired the land in 1899 with the objective of making it an area of rest and relaxation for the city's inhabitants. However, it took many years before it became such a park. The area remained as some sort of waste-land up until 1914. That year, Norway celebrated its centennial year since its constitution was laid down, with a fair called "Vi kan" ("We can"). It was a massive fair, judged so especially for the poor state that Norway (and the city of Oslo) was in. After the fair, most of the buildings erected were demolished, with only the restaurant still visible today.
With the conclusion of the fair, the park once again drifted into oblivion. It was not until the beginning of the 1920's that Gustav Vigeland and his supporters looked at the possibility of making a sculpture park in the area. Vigeland was given a studio in 1921 within the vicinity, and started working there in 1923. In the following year, he moved into the apartment there, where he lived til his death in the spring of 1943.
Vigeland’s purposed to erect the Monolith and the Fountain in front of the Museum. In 1924, however, shortly before Christmas, the city of Oslo decided that he could have parts of the park area to erect the Monolith and the Fountain, as well as to make improvements on the existing bridge in the park. There were criticism and struggles connected to his work, but in 1931, the plan that Vigeland had proposed for the area was finally accepted by the city.
Vigeland's works and the people
As a community, we relate very well to Vigeland’s works, and are impressed by what he has achieved. We like to take friends to the park, whenever they visit us - one might say that we relate to the park with a certain sense of pride. The park is important to the community, as we use it a lot during our spare time, e.g. strolling, walking the dog, playing different ball games and jogging.
On a daily basis, we may ignore the sculptures and just use the park. But whenever friends or colleagues from abroad visit, we take them to the park.
Explaining the meaning of the sculptures to guests, however, is not an easy task. The problem, or challenge, is that with Gustav Vigeland, he never puts a meaningful title to the sculptures. They are mere descriptions of what we see, i.e. "Man and woman", "Woman and girl", "Two girls" or, as with the most popular of them all, "The angry boy". In the latter sculpture, I think it is fair to say that Vigeland has been able to immortalize a situation well known to us all, independent of gender, race and nationality.
If one looks at the Monolith, the most complex of the sculptures in the park, consisting of 121 figures, one may ponder its meaning. When Vigeland was asked about its meaning, his reply was, “This is my religion”.
From my point of view, the sculptures in the park very much express the relationships between people. One may notice that the group of sculptures as a whole displays life - from conception, to birth, to life, and on to death – and it goes on in a cycle.
A public art enduring vandalism
“The angry boy” was actually stolen in the beginning of the 1990’s. Apart from that, we have not suffered from a massive amount of vandalism. There is the occasional paint on the bronze, but all in all, I would say that the public pay respect to the sculptures and to the park as such.
Words: Sharman Tanny