Oslo, the Norwegian capital crowned “Green Capital” by the European Commission in 2019 ? Since the discovery of oil in the North Sea in the late 1960s, Norway has gone from being one of the most underdeveloped countries in the region to one of the richest on the planet.
More recently, Norway’s natural resources have also put it in a politically uneasy position. Soon after war broke out in Ukraine, it supplanted Russia as the EU’s primary gas supplier; since then the country’s profits have become astronomical — and controversial.
But even in peacetime, Norway was visibly flush, its infamously high taxes mirrored by a seemingly utopian level of public infrastructure. One could consult a tram or bus schedule in Oslo, but only if one couldn’t afford to wait the minute or two it typically takes for one to show up. It would be possible, I suppose, to track down a cigarette butt or two in Oslo’s breathtaking green spaces. The Ekebergparken sculpture park is an explosion of Modernism and whimsy in the woods south of the city, while the astonishing Vigeland Museet and Frogner parks are fun-house landscapes of fragrant gardens, eye-catching granite and bronze sculptures, and wrought-iron gates that cast shadows down bleach-white steps.
The recent surge of Norwegian literary and film exports has helped usher the capital out of the shadows of neighboring Copenhagen (broadly worshipped) and Stockholm (lots of off-the-record comments about Stockholm). Trier’s moody and stylish trilogy of love letters to his city, made up of Reprise; Oslo, August 31st; and Worst Person (a laugh riot compared with the first two), reflect the sartorial and conversational tastes of a younger generation of Osloites. People here seem as content to delve into a deeper exchange as they are to hit the dance floor.
But today’s Oslo is not strictly an export business. Three architectural behemoths have altered the skyline in as many years and are drawing waves of tourists. Completed in June 2020, the Deichman Bjørvika library has the breezy feel of an atrium peppered with shafts of light. Inside is the archive of the Future Library, a buzzy project conceived by Scottish artist Katie Paterson, in which authors including David Mitchell, Margaret Atwood, and the Oslo-born Karl Ove Knausgård have deposited manuscripts in inaccessible glass drawers. These works will not be read until 2114.
In October 2021, the city opened the world’s first museum devoted to the Norwegian Expressionist painter Edvard Munch, a structure so prominent on the waterfront that it surely would have appeared in the background of his work, had it existed in the late 1800s. The museum contains 26,000 pieces of Munch’s art, including multiple versions of The Scream (these are tucked behind doors that open and close on a timer, to limit their exposure to light) as well as a version of his magnificent Madonna. The building itself is aesthetically controversial, a slightly perplexing drama to an outsider: if the lauded Deichman Bjørvika library resembles a pile of books that fans out at the top, the Munch museum resembles a pile of books on the verge of tipping over.
Finally, there’s the crown jewel: the National Museum of Art, Architecture & Design, which opened in June 2022.