Norway has a well-organized, high-profile body of professional artists whose long-established commitment to encouraging artistic activity throughout the country has brought them respect, as well as state subsidies. In the 1960s, abstract and conceptual artists ruled the roost, but at the end of the 1970s there was a renewed interest in older art styles, particularly Expressionism, Surrealism and Cubism, plus a new emphasis on technique and materials. To a large degree these opposing impulses fused, or at least overlapped, but by the late 1980s several definable movements had emerged. One of the more popular trends was for artists to use beautiful colours to portray disquieting visions, a dissonance favoured by the likes of Knut Rose (1936–2002) and Bjørn Carlsen (b.1945), whose ghoulish Searching in a Dead Zebra has been highly influential. Other artists, the most distinguished of whom is Tore Hansen (b.1949), have developed a naive style. Their paintings, apparently clumsily drawn without thought for composition, are frequently reminiscent of Norwegian folk art, and constitute a highly personal response often drawn from the artist’s subconscious experiences.

Both of these trends embody a sincerity of expression that defines the bulk of contemporary Norwegian art. Whereas the prevailing mood in international art circles encourages detached irony, Norway’s artists characteristically adhere to the view that their role is to interpret, or at least express, the poignant and personal for their audience. An important exception is Bjørn Ransve (b.1944), who creates sophisticated paintings in constantly changing styles, but always focused on the relationship between art and reality. Another exception is the small group of artists, such as Bjørn Sigurd Tufta (b.1956) and Sverre Wylier (b.1953), who have returned to non-figurative Modernism to create works that explore the possibilities of the material, while the content plays no decisive role.

An interest in materials has sparked a variety of experiments, particularly among the country’s artists, whose installations incorporate everyday utensils, natural objects and pictorial art. These installations have developed their own momentum, pushing back the traditional limits of the visual arts in their use of many different media including photography, video, textiles and furniture. Leading an opposing faction is the painter Odd Nerdrum (b.1944), who has long spearheaded the figurative rebellion against the Modernists, though some artists straddle the divide, such as Astrid Løvaas (b.1957) and Kirsten Wagle (b.1956), who work together to produce flower motifs in textiles. The most prominent Norwegian sculptor today is Bergen’s own Bård Breivik (b.1948), who explores the dialogue between nature and humankind. With similarly ambitious intent are the much-lauded installations of Jørgen Craig Lello (b.1978) and the Swede Tobias Arnell (b.1978), who claim to “utilize logically broken trains of thought, false statements and fictional scenarios in their examination of how the world is interpreted and understood”. Good luck to them, then.

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