Collector plans sculpture park to “celebrate women”

Sense of embarrassment about real estate investor’s concept


A private collector has revealed his plans for a large sculpture park in Oslo, dedicated to works with a “feminine” theme. The Ekeberg Skulpturpark, funded by the Oslo-based real estate investor Christian Ringnes, is scheduled to open in 2012, but the park’s focus on gender has become a hotly debated subject.

Marianne Hultman, director of the Oslo Kunstforening (Fine Art Society), said: “Private initiative is something we should appreciate, but what would have happened if one of the country’s richest women had suggested a sculpture park with works depicting only men. Who would have taken her seriously?” Hultman also said that she expects around 90% of the works will be made by men, a point that Ringnes is unconcerned by. “The only criteria is the artistic quality of the works,” he said. “In that sense our decision will not depend on whether the artist is male or female. Norway belongs to the countries with the highest level of gender equality. The park is also a way to honour that.”

Ringnes created a foundation with NKr350m (E45m) of funding to build and maintain the park and buy works. Around 20 works, including pieces by Rodin, Fernando Botero and Richard Hudson, have already been acquired. According to Ringnes, around NKr85m (E11m) worth of art has been acquired so far, with plans to spend around NKr20m (E2.5m) on another ten pieces.

“The park is a fantastic gift to our city,” said Gro Balas, director of Oslo’s agency for cultural affairs. “We aim to make Oslo the cultural capital of the Nordic region. The sculpture park, with the new opera house and planned museum buildings [the Munch Museum and the National Gallery], make us feel comfortable that this is within reach.”

“As the park has international ambitions, our aim is to find several works by non-Norwegian artists,” Ringnes told us. A number of works will also be specially commissioned, and further works will be acquired once the park is open. “The works should have a feminine imprint, which does not necessarily mean they have to depict women, but could also stand for female values such as peace,” said Ringnes, who has a small group of advisers.

Artists have also been critical. “To establish a sculpture park to honour women is old fashioned,” said sculptor Ane Hjort Guttu. “We have all had the discussions about sexual identity. I’m afraid the park will be built on stereotypes.” But Balas, a former Social Democratic Party politician, said: “Having been active in the feminist movement, I don’t understand those criticising the park for its focus on femininity.”

A public hearing is scheduled for later in the year and the final decision is expected in 2011. There is also criticism from Friends of the Earth Norway, which has objections to the park’s potential destruction of the natural environment of Ekeberg, the hill close to the centre of Oslo where the park will be built. “We are focused on having a dialogue and are confident about solving this,” said Ringnes. If plans are realised, the spot from where Munch viewed the scenery for The Scream, will be highlighted with a viewing platform in the park.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 214 June 2010