To collect is human – Una Meistere talks to Norwegian collector Christian Ringnes about how he started buying art by accident and the need for identity in a collection.
At the end of September, Oslo, which The Wall Street Journal recently described as “one of the most electrifying places to see new art”, acquired one more tourist destination: Ekebergparken. This sculpture park, open 24 hours a day, is located on Ekeberg Hill, the same place where Edvard Munch was inspired for his famous painting “The Scream”. The 26-hectare park currently has 31 sculptures in its superb collection of art by old masters and contemporary artists alike. Among the sculptures are Rodin’s “Eva” and Louise Bourgeois’ “The Couple” (hanging between two giant pine trees, the serene aluminium figures seem bound to each other for eternity) as well as James Turrell’s installation “Ekeberg Skyspace” (a meditation of light and colour in which time and space seem to disappear) and Diane Maclean’s gigantic steel “Open Book”, the pages of which reflect each viewer and the surroundings in a hallucinogenic fluidity.
The idea of Ekebergparken was conceived by Norwegian businessman, billionaire and art collector Christian Ringnes. The park was an idea that obsessed him for almost a decade. Ringnes’ grandfather, Ellef Ringnes, was also once an art collector. Christian Ringnes graduated from the University of Lausanne and the Harvard Business School and has been active in the real estate business since the 1980s. He is the largest shareholder and CEO of two real estate companies. Through his foundation, he also owns one of the largest private collections of art in Norway, which includes works by Auguste Rodin, Richard Hudson, Salvador Dalí, Marc Quinn and others. Ekebergparken is not Ringnes’ only gift to Oslo; his are also the “Peacock Fountain” by the National Theatre station and Marc Quinn’s “Kate Moss” by Oslo’s old Opera Passage.
He arrives to our interview in a Tesla Model S, the first electric luxury car in the world. He is dressed in a suit, white shirt and ascot. It’s a typical rainy autumn day in Norway. “It’ll only get worse,” says Ringnes with a laugh as he takes me on a private tour of Ekebergparken. He complains that no one has washed Swedish artist Ann-Sofi Sidén’s sculpture today; the bronze fountain, “Fideicommissum”, is in the form of a woman taking care of personal business right there on the forest path. Ringnes says people are actually quite unpredictable. People often try to push Lynn Chadwick’s gigantic steel installation “Ace of Diamonds” into motion even though it weighs several tonnes and is located on the edge of a steep slope. Or they try to pull open the bronze drawers on Salvador Dalí’s “Venus de Milo”. “It’s a long road towards educating them,” says Ringnes. But, despite the nasty weather, we are not alone in the park. In fact, there are plenty of people here. And almost each person we meet stops to chat and express a genuine thank you. It seems Ringnes could hardly wish for greater satisfaction, especially taking into account the controversy that quite recently swelled around the creation of this park. Feminists did not like Ringnes’ idea of planning the park as a sort of “homage to women” and accused him of male chauvinism; environmental activists, on the other hand, protested the felling of trees; still others expressed their disappointment at a billionaire trying to write himself into history by creating competition for Oslo’s famous Vigeland Park.
Why did you do it? What was the reason? There was so much controversy surrounding this project: environmental, feminist, financial… Why do you need so much trouble?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
It is all about giving something back to Oslo, which I love, and that has given me the opportunity for a wonderful life and a great professional career.
As to all the trouble, it was easy to predict… When I decided to make the park, I already knew there would be some trouble. I was completely sure of it. The whole thing actually started back in 1984. That’s a long time ago. I was the manager of a big real estate company here in Norway. The chairman of the board at that time came to us with the idea that we should donate a fountain to the city of Oslo. It actually took three years to complete that project, but afterwards it became very popular. So popular that we started to give many sculptures and fountains to the city of Oslo. And we saw what power of transformation this had, not only for the people coming and being photographed by the fountain, but also how it changed that part of the city. The city become much more pleasant than it was before these statues were erected.
Then, in 2003 we bought the Ekeberg restaurant. At that time it was a ruin. Its history dated back to 1930, when it was a big success. But by 1990 it was abandoned and was just lying there unused, with all of its windows broken. Narcotics, prostitution… everything was going on there. But the city of Oslo was very interested in this building because of its history. So, we bought it, thinking it would just be a nice project, just to create something new. And then I started reading about the area around the building and I found out that around 1900 the area was a public park. Pictures of that park showed beautiful pathways and small park pockets with people sitting on nice benches. But then I walked around and couldn’t find anything of this remaining.
The park was also in ruins?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
Yes, exactly. In the old days there were big pine trees that dominated everything. There were also goats, about 350 animals that walked around eating grass and bushes. All the goats and three shepherds left in 1963. And from that time on no one did anything in this territory. I saw this and I saw the restaurant, and I thought that it would be nice to repair it all. Then I thought maybe we should do something more. As I had this experience with sculptures, I thought it might be nice to combine the two. Repair the terrain and put sculptures in it, too.
Then I started to talk to everybody: to the local community, to all the local parties, to politicians, to the Red Cross and the Lions Club and Rotary, to the old people who have homes around there. Everywhere I gave speeches about the restaurant, and I always added some lines about my dream, about the sculpture park that could eventually appear there… Everybody was happy and thought it was a very good idea, but nothing happened. Then we did some moves with the press, and the Oslo city council said to the city government, “We want to see what Mr. Ringnes’ proposed gift really is, and whether it’s a good idea. And what will it look like, and what kind of agreement do we need with him?” In the end, it was a project that was governed by the City of Oslo’s Culture Department. There were three people working full time on this, paid by my foundation, which resulted in a new zoning plan for the area, that was voted on by the Oslo city council in August 2011.
And then there was a lot of controversy in the newspapers. It’s always like that – it’s difficult to have something perceived to be positive before you start doing it, people are so afraid of change. We had already seen it with Vigeland Park, which was very controversial at the beginning; people didn’t want it and there was opposition in all the newspapers. I already knew there would be a long period of discussion, especially when I introduced this theme of feminine inspiration. Even if I said it was in appreciation of women, etc. It was, of course, not popular in the art community. They believe this theme belongs at least a century ago, that it’s just the strange ideas of an eccentric man.
But why did you push ahead on this feminine theme? Why was your mission to create a park that is an homage to women?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
Because I wanted some kind of identity for the park. Because there are a lot of parks being made around the globe. I think there is one opening at least every six months. And they all are fine, but they all look more or less the same. It’s all contemporary art, and it’s more or less the same core group of artists that are everywhere.
Which are quite well known, of course?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
The artists are very well known, because the owners go to the same galleries and they all have the same things. That’s why I thought why not try to give the park an identity? I thought a lot about what that identity should be – should it be animals, should it be peace, what should it be…? Then I came up with this feminine theme, and the reason is easy to explain afterwards. We have this big Vigeland Park, which is a very masculine park, despite the statues of naked women. It is masculine both in the way the sculptures are made and in the way the park is laid out. In Vigeland Park, the art comes first, and only then comes nature. Here, in Ekeberg, it’s completely the opposite – nature rules everything. We were thinking where to put the art, but it is actually nature that decides. It’s much more organic, and it’s much more feminine in approach. Vigeland Park is in the western part of Oslo, Ekeberg is on the eastern side. Masculine west, feminine east.
And then, of course, we have this peace issue because of Norway’s connection to the Nobel Peace Prize. And I thought, well, is peace feminine or masculine? And then I started thinking about who started all the wars. It’s all men. Who connects and is always having discussions? Women. Men remain silent and just start fighting. Women, they start complaining; they talk and they compare and connect, and then they almost forget what they started talking about, but there is no war. There is a discussion and they find a solution. I thought these were ideas that could fit into the park. But first of all, as I told you, I wanted some kind of identity to also distinguish Ekeberg Park internationally. I understood, of course, if we were successful and made a good park, it would be very popular in Norway. But I also wanted it to be a big deal internationally.
The park project was physically started half a year after the plans were agreed. And we then used only one-and-a-half years to make it. Basically, we just repaired the old park. The original paths are basically the same; we put in new benches and cleared up a little bit of the forest to provide a view of the fjord. And that’s what the whole hullabaloo was about.
A special Facebook page has been created to protest against your activities, cutting down the trees, etc…CHRISTIAN RINGNES
We did quite a lot. Of course, we added some new elements. We made a lake, although calling it a lake is too ambitious. It’s rather the size of a big swimming pool. And under this lake we put a piece of artwork by James Turrell. We also celebrated the “Scream Point”, as we call it here, which is where we believe Edvard Munch got his inspiration for “The Scream”. Of course, the exact spot could have been more in this direction or that direction, but Munch wrote it was in Ekeberg and he also described the view, and this spot is similar to the painting – the scenery you see down there from the viewpoint. This is also the oldest part of Oslo; this is where the first people came to live in the Stone Age. We have petroglyphs, which is a kind of drawing on stone, and it was very important to preserve those. We also built a heritage museum that tells the story of Ekeberg from its very beginnings. The museum has a room in which you can experience the sounds of Oslo. 25 different sounds of the city, from cars to ships going out to the fjord, foxes and ants on the ground…
We opened the park on September 26th, and when you come here on the weekend it’s completely full of people, they all are very happy and there seems to be no resistance left. Everything has completely changed. That was predictable, but I am still very happy to see it. Of course, we still have problems to solve: the parking lot is too small, the paths get muddy when it rains…
Some of the park’s artwork was specially commissioned, some was bought especially for the park. How was the artwork chosen?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
We have an art committee, which was established in 2008. This is part of the collaboration with the City of Oslo. When presenting the project, the head of the city council said this is the kind of private/public enterprise we like in Oslo. The city council decides everything, and then, he pointed to me and said, “he pays”. That is what it has been. The decisions on art has for example been done by the Art Committee. The committee is made up of six people. Two of them are chosen by the Culture Department of Oslo – one is the head of Vigeland Park, the other is central in the Munch Museum. Then we have two artists who are proposed by Norway’s sculpture association. My foundation has the right to appoint two people as well – one is me and the other used to be the chairman of Norway’s National Museum. The committee first came together in 2008 to look at the sculptures I had bought beginning in 2003, when I got this idea. Optimistic as I was, I had bought a lot of classical sculptures. I figured if this project doesn’t work out, I will put them somewhere else. But I was very certain that I wanted to try to include classical works in the park, to give it a dimension beyond the contemporary. I bought Dalí, I bought Renoir, I bought Rodin and many, many others. And then the first task of the art committee was to vote which of the sculptures were good enough to be in a park. They chose a little less than half of them. The rest I have displayed or will display elsewhere.
Does that mean the rest of the sculptures were not good enough? How did you feel when they told you that?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
No, many of them were not good enough. They are certainly fine, good statues, but the Art Committee did take the best ones. And certainly the most expensive ones. In 2008 we had ten sculptures and we knew we needed 23 more. Now we have 31, six of them site-specific. One of these was made by the American artist Dan Graham. Then we invited James Turrell, the master of light. We spoke with Tony Oursler because we had seen his projections in New York City’s Central Park, and he ended up creating three pieces of artwork, all site-specific. We also invited the American artist Jenny Holzer, who is known for her series of short statements called “Truisms”. That was one part of the process. The other part was to find sculptures, the most spectacular ones. One of these is “The Couple” by Louise Bourgeois, which is hanging from a tree. I believe that’s the essence of a sculpture park in the woods.
Is this piece the highlight of the park from your point of view?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
We have four or five so-called highlights. We have “Ekeberg Skyspace” by James Turrell, but that is not open to the public all the time because it needs a lot of guards when you are there. Another one certainly is Louise Bourgeois. The most photographed sculpture is “The Walking Woman” by British artist Sean Henry. It’s a sculpture of an Asian woman about 30 cm taller than us. She appears to be walking out of the forest and everybody is fascinated by her. The fourth is also the work of a British artist, George Cutts’ “The Dance”. The sculpture is made up of two curved strips of metal in constant, hypnotic motion. And then lastly maybe Tony Oursler’s Klang, a multifaceted video wall dedicated to communication, built into a stone cave.
I suppose the process of finding the right places for the artwork was one of the most complicated tasks. Are you satisfied with the result?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
Yes. We’ve travelled all around Europe to see sculpture parks, to see what is successful and what is not. We were in *Goodwood*, we went to Yorkshire, Middelheim, Kroeller- Mueller, *Louisiana* in Denmark, Wanås in Sweden and so on, and we found out that just as important as the quality of the artwork is how it is placed in the terrain. The two most challenging parks are may be Yorkshire and Middelheim. Why is that? Because they have huge open spaces and many of the places you go, even if you have quite a lot of space for the sculpture, you still see a lot of other sculptures. That is challenging. In my mind, sculptures are best experienced when they are somewhat alone, when they have their own room around them. In the beginning, I thought we’d do the same as when designing a golf course – that is, we would find the finest sculpture park architect. But such a person does not exist. There are no sculpture park architects. We spent a lot of time trying to find people who do this, but there does not seem to be any particular architect. In some places they use the artists themselves, such as Wanås. And then there is *Louisiana and Kroeller Mueller*, where they basically add a new sculpture every tenth year. At Kistefos Sculpture Park everything is chosen by one man.
It was interesting to find out that there is no Jack Nicklaus of sculpture parks. In the beginning we tried to get some artists to do the job, but they were primarily interested in their own works, so that wouldn’t work, either. Actually, the people who did the most work were those from the art committee. With a couple of exceptions, I think we somehow managed it. We might change the location of some sculptures, maybe three or four. The rest have been very successful, from the placement point of view, which is good.
The idea is to eventually have 80 pieces of artwork in the park. Why 80?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
We won’t have 80. We have an agreement with the government of Oslo that says we may have up to 80 sculptures, and that every year for the first fifteen years we should add one sculpture. Then maybe one every second year. If you calculate that, you reach 50 or 55 in fifty years. I think that is enough. When you walk around here, you will notice that every sculpture really has a space of its own. If you do too many, it’s going to be counterproductive, the sculptures will interfere visually with one another.
How did you get into collecting? Is it a family thing?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
No. When you get rich, you start buying art and then you get interested in it, and if you are clever you will never get out. That is how it works.
And why sculptures?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
Not just sculptures. I collected paintings, too. You normally start with pictures because they’re easier to understand. And with sculptures, they’re very hard to buy, especially the old ones. It’s very hard to know if it’s the real one or just a good copy. You really have to look where it comes from and investigate it, but you still cannot be sure because metal is a pretty dead material. It makes the process very complicated and, of course, you have to have a space for the sculpture. If you have a garden, as most Norwegians do, which is about 1000 m2, then you can’t really display a lot of sculptures. Otherwise you destroy the whole experience, it’s too much. So, that’s maybe one of the reasons you start with pictures – you have relatively more walls in your house than garden space. It was when we started donating sculptures to the city of Oslo, that I first became interested, but not so much for myself as for the company. Then you start collecting a little bit. We have fantastic buildings here in Oslo, such as the Grand Hotel, which houses a lot of our paintings and sculptures. As well as the old Opera House.
Which is where you placed “Kate Moss” by Marc Quinn…CHRISTIAN RINGNES
Exactly. And inside the Opera House we put a lot of other things. But, looking back, it has nothing to do with inheritance. Art collecting is really something I began by accident. That’s hard to admit, but it’s true.
What was the first important piece of artwork you bought? Which piece still means something special to you?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
around then. I was really young. It was not an expensive painting, but it still has kind of a very strong position in my heart, because it was the first deliberate art purchase I made. It is a picture of a woman walking on skis; it’s not very big, maybe 30 by 50 centimetres, but it’s very nice, very Norwegian and very traditional. Very much in the national romantic style. In the beginning that was what I collected: national romantic, figurative, easy to understand. The second painting I bought was much more expensive. Christian Krogh (1852-1925), he was a painter around the turn of the previous century. He painted people in very difficult situations, his was a social kind of painting. He was a very clever painter. He also often painted the sea. I have a painting of his of a storm. You see the water coming in and you see the people, not their faces but their hands. It’s a very fascinating picture. And then, I just kept on going… I am still fond of figurative painting today, especially Odd Nerdrum, the Norwegian painter, who I think is a very extraordinary artist for our time. I have quite a number of paintings by him, but I collect other things as well.
Do you ever buy art just as an investment?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
Never. Everything I have I’ve bought because I liked it.
But what is it that fascinates you about art, what makes you buy it? It must be more than just having money…CHRISTIAN RINGNES
I think you’ve discovered it. I grew up near Vigeland Park. I was first exposed to sculptures and that kind of thinking when I was three years old and we started taking walks in the park. I walked through the park every day. Of course, something like that leaves an impression on a person even if you don’t understand it. What you see, how people behave in the park – it’s different. You see how they are interested in the art, they talk about it. Then you get older and start reading about art, feeling it. That comes with time. But you don’t need to collect art in order to have experiences like that; you can go to a museum. Collecting comes with money. The desire to own something that is special, something that is only yours.
Is there also an ego element to it?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
In a sense, I think every child cries, “Mine! It’s mine!” Whether it’s theirs or not. You see this in every kindergarten, when someone takes a toy and shows others, “It’s mine!” and then they start fighting. It’s just in us as humans. We like to own things. We like to collect things. And men are even more horrible than women. You collect mostly handbags and shoes, but we collect everything – stamps, miniature bottles. I have 52,500 different miniature bottles in a museum in Oslo (Ringnes’ Mini Bottle Gallery is the only museum of its kind in the world – U.M.) They’re completely useless. But men, we like collecting. We like having things. That’s human. Once you get fascinated by something, you want it and then you start collecting. For some people the collection itself becomes important – they want to show their collection to the world, they want to show that they have a special eye. Speaking of myself, I can say clearly that Ekeberg Park is something for people to see, but it’s not my eye. It’s the eye of the art committee.
But it’s important to you that it’s yours?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
You mean taste and the selection of art, or that I actually own it?
That you actually own this artwork.CHRISTIAN RINGNES
No, I don’t think that’s important. The first draft of the agreement with the city of Oslo stated that I was going to give everything away to them. All the sculptures. But they didn’t want them. They said that would be too much of a responsibility. You have to think about this park – it will be difficult to run and maintain, and they cannot pay for all that. A sculpture could be stolen, and that would be a public problem. If it’s stolen from you as a private foundation, then it’s your own responsibility. That’s different. So, we ended up with an agreement that the sculptures will stay in the park for at least 50 years, but that my foundation will be the one who owns them. “It’s your responsibility. You will insure them and you have to make sure that they are OK.” Which probably is a good idea, but it’s not important for me to own them. Now, however, I find that I like the thought that they’re the property of my foundation, but I think for other people it’s not important. In the end, they’re not something you can take away. For example, James Turrell is cemented under the ground.
I recently spoke with another well known Norwegian art collector, Petter Stordalen, about art, collecting and the special value of art. He admitted to another aspect in all of this, namely, that art is undeniably a luxury toy.CHRISTIAN RINGNES
Yes. But I think he is even more extreme than me. First of all, he is younger than me by approximately ten years, and he got into this art thing ten years later than I did. So, we have a twenty year difference. He is a very quick learner and he is a very enthusiastic person. So I would say he is a typical example of what I just described. You fall into art by accident, you start collecting and then you become interested in it and you learn more and it becomes your passion (and toy).
But how have you trained yourself to distinguish good art from bad art?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
It’s a process. I rely on experts, just like Petter, who relies on Sune Nordgren. I rely on the art committee and gallery owners and people I trust. Sometimes you find things that you like enormously and they don’t cost much and then, of course, you buy just for the pleasure. But, if you see something that could be interesting or that could in some way supplement or complement your collection, it’s logical to ask someone about it. But other times you simply “fall in love”. That’s what happened to me in New York, when I saw Matt Johnson’s sculpture “Levitating Woman” at a gallery. I instantly knew I would buy it. And then I hoped I would later get it through the art committee (*laughs*). But they said, “Don’t hesitate, buy it! It’s a very special piece of artwork.” In addition, Matt Johnson is becoming famous right now. The Astrup Fearnley museum has also displayed his work.
Do you also buy artwork by new and emerging artists whose names are not yet well known? Do you invest in them?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
I would say no. I mean, in my private collecting, of course, I buy contemporary artists, but they are not completely unknown. They may be unknown internationally and they are certainly unknown to 90% of Norway’s population. But most of the artists whose work I’ve bought have done something already and are known in art circles.
What advice do you have for young collectors?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
Talk to the experts, but invest with you heart. That would be my advice. Because collecting is a personal thing. If you only talk to curators and experts, then you end up with the same thing everyone else is doing, and you will pay too much as well. So, you have to find your own personal thing. And it will evolve. What you bought when you started collecting can be very good, but ten years later you will like something else.
Have you ever sold anything from your collection?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
I’m not good at selling.
Is it important to you what will happen with your collection after your death?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
To be honest, I’m not too concerned about what happens after I die. I’ve joked with my friends that I’m going to make a pyramid or mausoleum to be buried in, somewhere in a very central part of Oslo. A monument… (*laughs*) But, of course, you don’t do those kind of things anymore, it’s out of fashion. But it could be a fun project when you leave…
So it’s really not important at all?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
If these sculptures were destroyed and demolished, I think it would be very sad. I’m very pleased we have an organisation that will take care of them for at least the first 50 years. I’m now approaching 60, so I’ll be 110 by then. If I’m still alive then, I probably won’t be the best curator. There should be a system. But if you look from a broader perspective, how many things from the first centuries a.d. are still around today and who knows who created them? As to people you have mainly the Biblical figures, Julius Caesar and maybe a few others. But I don’t think normal people – people like you and me – can hope to rise to roles like that. I think it’s much harder in today’s society to achieve such a prominent position. Even Hitler, Churchill, Mandela– people we talk about a lot – they’ll be forgotten in a thousand years. I think we need to understand that we will all eventually vanish.
If we look at Persian rugs, no one has signed them, but that doesn’t matter – we still consider them works of art. Compare that to contemporary art, for example, where a famous artist’s signature instantly gives a piece of artwork additional value, even if it’s not his or her best work.CHRISTIAN RINGNES
You are absolutely right. I think the things we are talking about now are not necessarily the things that will actually survive. But the ideas will live on. Aristotle will be talked about forever. Philosophy – that will live on. Some of the art will live on. But it’s not me who will live on. I mean, who knows who financed the Vigeland Park? But we’ll still know Vigeland – for another two, three hundred years at least. Until it falls apart. Many of the sculptures here, they will live on. As an idea. We have “Venus de Milo” by Dalí, which is originally a very old sculpture. So at least on the level of ideas it’s still doing things for people.
But, looking back on the years since you started collecting, does art change something in you, in the way you look at the world?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
Of course, it does. It gives you a completely different dimension.
What kind of dimension?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
I would say it’s a spiritual dimension. What would I be doing if art did not exist? I’d just be doing real estate without the extra added value, without that extra twist that comes with doing what we do. Everything would be fine and functional, but nothing special. I think art gives you something special. It also makes you understand people in a different way, understand that they are not only machines that produce something for you. Each and every person has a spiritual dimension, and you meet this through art. I’m not much into sports, but I do notice one thing about sports, that it brings many people together on the same level of enthusiasm. Even I am very moved and touched when I see someone winning at something. And I think it’s the same thing when you see a great work of art, a fine theatre play or a good piece of sculpture. It’s this common experience. And it lifts us.
How important is it for you is to know the artist personally? Artists as friends?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
I would say it’s not very important. It’s a very nice addition, but many of the best artists are already dead so I can’t know them. I never met Louise Bourgeois; that would have been very nice, but her artwork is what lives on. I do get to know the artists who have done site-specific pieces for our park. Especially James Turrell, Tony Oursler, Marina Abramovic. Fantastic people! They are really out of the ordinary! It’s a privilege to spend time with them. And you understand their art better when they explain why they do what they do. So it adds a very important dimension. But I would say it’s not important to know the artist in order to benefit greatly from a piece of art. And sometimes it’s even an advantage not to, because some artists have difficult personalities and that can interfere with how you look at their art. But that’s an experience, too.
Regarding the quality of art and the art market, do you think it’s the market that dictates the tone nowadays?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
Yes, that’s what I meant about all the sculpture parks that all look the same. It’s becoming much more commercialised. As you know, the difference between owning work by somebody really famous or someone not so famous… is a lot of money – and attention. Of course, everybody tries to get the famous one. And as you said, the signature means a lot. Take two similar things, but one has the signature of a genius – for example, Marina Abramović’s work in our park. Her idea to make people scream at Munchs Scream point– how original is it? (Abramović’s piece, a frame in which anyone can stand and scream, is located in the place Munch is said to have been inspired to paint his famous painting. Last year in August she organised a performance here, in which 270 inhabitants of Oslo participated and which was later immortalised in a film and book – U.M.) May be not very original; many people could conceivably come up with an idea like that. But because Abramović did it, suddenly it evolves into something special. Something that can be shown at the Van Gogh museum, something they might want at MoMa. And why is that? There are two reasons: one is Marina Abramović and her signature, and the other reason is that she does it in a way that nobody else could do it. At first I was somewhat sceptical, professionally sceptical, but after you see the process, you understand why she is what she is. Because she did it in a way and put it together in a way nobody else could have done. I’m completely convinced. Or take Andy Warhol. How special were his ideas really? But there was something in the way he did them. His art will survive. But many others who are too commercialised will not survive.
Is there any artwork in the world that you would like to have but cannot afford?CHRISTIAN RINGNES
Oh, yes! Lots! I can tell you, lots! (*smiles*.) Just take a walk in the Louvre or the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. There are many, many such things… Every time I go to Paris or to St. Petersburg, regardless how little time I have, I always try to go see some of them. And, of course, you have the Met in New York City. I would be happy to own some of those artworks, with the greatest of pleasure. Or take Henry Moore, who has become very, very expensive. I would like to have a work by him. I’ve already asked the art committee whether they would prioritize to have Henry Moore sculptures here. They wisely said, “No, because he is everywhere else.” We don’t really need him here. There are many, many pieces of art I would like to buy… Also “The Spider” by Louise Bourgeois. It’s a fantastic sculpture! And it would fit so well here. But it’s a matter of not being able to eat more than you can afford. That’s just how it is.