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The ongoing collaboration between artist Bjarne Melgaard and Norway’s renowned design firm, Snøhetta, appears to have ended prematurely this month when a majority of Oslo’s politicians rejected their proposal to build the dramatically rendered “A House to Die In” just steps away from one of Edvard Munch’s historic studios.
Internationally, Melgaard is known for his controversial work that frequently indulges in fetishism, drug addiction, and casual racism. (The artist attracted widespread outrage in 2014 for his chair sculptures featuring black women as the furniture’s legs.) Thank in part to this controversy, a 2015 exhibition at the Munch Museum in Oslo courted significant scandal by juxtaposing the works of Melgaard and Munch.
Initiated in 2011, his collaboration with Snøhetta was meant to provide the artist with a live-work space in Norway that included a “drug room” and “sex pillows.” Architectural renderings of the building show a sleek, UFO-like structure propped up above the ground on a handful of the artist’s catlike sculptures.
The projects earliest critics were those people living in a nearby artist colony situated on the site where Munch’s villa once stood. (Demolished in 1960 to make way for the community, the artist’s winter studio still remains on the grounds in an enclosed space.) “This is the only place where Munch lived and worked for 30 years,” Halvard Haugerud, a painter living in the artist community, told The New York Times in February. “We just want to keep what’s left of Munch.”
It’s important to recognize that Munch is arguably Norwegian history’s most famous artist, second only to playwright Henrik Ibsen who wrote “A Doll’s House.” (Fun fact: Munch actually painted many of the sets for Ibsen’s original productions in the late nineteenth century.) In a relatively conservative country, upsetting any part of Munch’s legacy comes with a serious amount of scrutiny — especially for an artist-provocateur like Melgaard whose oeuvre is meant to shock by titles alone. (See: “Puppy Orgy Acid Party.”)
“We want the site where the death house was intended to be placed to remain a green area for the benefit of the local population, and we encourages Bjarne to find a new site for the project,” said members of Oslo’s city council in a statement concerning their rejection of the artist’s “A House to Die In.”
As he often does when responding to criticism, Melgaard has surpringly accused his detractors of being either conservatives, homophobes, or both. Melgaard appears reluctant to believe that his own actions could be the cause of others’ frustrations. “I believe this talk about the legacy of Munch is ridiculous,” he told The Times back in February. “They are not interested in gay men or women taking up too much space in our society.”
Responding to the death house’s recent setback, Melgaard told the newspaper Aftenposten via textmessage that “there is great opposition to new things in Norway.” His proposal was rejected by members of the Labour, Socialist Left, Green and Progressive parties.