Rated Artistic: Gustav Vigeland and his Sculptures

The park was famous, the map suggested a half and hour walk. I decided to bash my way through to go check it out (clearly too cheap to buy a transport ticket). The journey took an hour.

Was it worth the trek?

The proper name of the park is the Frogner Park and it was on all the tourism sites and blogs about Oslo. The park was popular because of the long stretch right at its heart tjat was lined with scultptures – the most iconic being an angry crying baby. The overall feedback seemed to be that it was a must-see, the marketing was that it was a fantastic place for a picnic, a date or just a great day out with the kids. Seemed harmless enough and these sculptures must be quite impressive to be talked about in such a breath, so I did as the brochures suggested.

Did I mention that parks were free to enter 😉

The sculptures were all made by the most famous sculptor in Norwegian history, Gustav Vigeland formerly known as Adolf Gustav Thornsen. Vigeland was renowned for his creativity and productivity, initially born into an artistic family and trained in Oslo in wood carving, Vigeland’s career was set back by the untimely death of his father after which he returned to his hometown to make money to support the family. He was however passionate about a career in being a professional sculptor and caught the attention of the leading sculptor of the time, Brynjulf Bergslien who supported the young man further with financial resources and mentorship. Vigeland then went round Europe to Copenhagen, Paris, Berlin and Florence training with the then-highly controversial Auguste Rodin in Paris (the father of modern sculpting) and learning the Renaissance form of art in Florence. These years out of Norway shaped the themes that he continually explored – death, and the male-female relationships.

The large broadwalk was flanked with sculptures on both sides, each sculpture stationary but alive as if it was in the midst of some sort of action.

One sculpture had a man and woman performing some sort of morning exercise, another was a scene of a father and daughter playing, a mother and child hugging. It would have looked like any other ordinary sculpture just that these were made of the naked human form. I’d only ever seen such sculptures and statues on pictures of ancient Greece and Italy.

I think I get why the angry crying baby was the icon of the park, because every other pictures was too ‘erotic’, it certainly can’t be the suggestive picture of a naked man holding a woman from behind could it 😉

Okay crude, irreverant joke but you get the point.

The pathway with the sculptures was however merely the starter. The famous angry boy called Spitfire merely a buildup to the great monolith in the distance.

The main course was a distance away, standing erect on the main platform – a tall column made of various human forms piling up towards the sky.

Surrounding the column on its sides were sculptures of a mass of boys huddled together, a group of girls cloistered around something, old ladies sitting around and pointing at something…

What was Vigeland trying to say with his work? What did he mean? What was this male-female relationship he was trying to explore?

According to Washington Post, “At first glance, it looks like a garden of eroticism: Lifesize statues of nude men and women in exotic embraces. On closer inspection, the sculpture is not erotic but powerful evocations of mankind rising to life, arresting portrayals of the evolutionary struggle from the first faint stirrings of life to old age and death.”

I think that elaboration is perfect.

Why, though did Vigeland end up giving his work to the city? Or rather, how did the city come into Vigeland’s work?

Vigeland’s house in Oslo set on the site where the municipal government wanted to build a public library over. Since civil authorities have the right to take a person’s home Vigeland was already on the losing side. In a bid to find a solution, Vigeland was granted land and a home to live and work out off while promising that all the works he produced from that point onwards which were not commissioned by others would be donated to the city council for the decoration of Oslo. It explains why his art works are not just at the Vigeland installation but also outside the City Hall.

The idea of an open, permanent exhibition of his sculptures consumed Vigeland for the next 20 years of his life culminating in the Frogner Park installation that we see today.

While the park today is seen as something absolutely fascinating to our eyes, critics during Vigeland’s time disliked the park.  have pointed out that Vigeland’s art forms had a work piece not dissimilar to the Nazi era sculptures that Arno Breker did in their style and substance – in their focus on aesthetics and form and the discipline of that form. Vigeland apparently made no effort to distance himself from those accusations, apparently quoted in the largest news daily as welcoming the highly disciplined soldiers from the Third Reich to walk among his sculptures

This park was fascinating, and the artworks interesting. I personally feel though that the person behind the sculptures was more interesting than the sculptures themselves.



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