Friday, April 11, 2014


The Vigeland sculpture park in Oslo
Whenever you ask someone what there is to see in Oslo they say Edvard Munch and the Gustav Vigeland Sculpture Park. Never having heard of Gustav Vigeland I became keen to visit when I read that he is hailed as Norway’s greatest sculptor and was compared to Michelangelo in his day.

 The large park  houses over 200 pieces of his work and boasts to be the largest sculpture park containing the work of a single artist in the world.  Indeed the whole thing is quite amazing, even more amazing is that he got the town to pay for it all. The bill for the carving of granite and casting of bronze  must have amounted to millions of kroner. His involvement would have been in producing all the models for an army of artisans to make and overseeing the placement of the work. These days a sculptor is doing well if he can get a town to commission just one piece of public sculpture..

One of the bronze statues by Gustav Vigeland.

But to the puzzlement of my Norwegian friend who had taken me there, I couldn’t  get really excited about the work. Had these been new sculptures by  Michelangelo or Giambologna I would have had to camp out in the park for weeks to see them all,  but sadly I soon became a little tired of them, something was missing, not imaginative composition as there were sculptures of people in every possible combination of interesting poses,  he was obviously a very honest and committed sculptor.  My guide asked me what I thought and I couldn’t really explain why I wasn’t excited by the work.

The word that kept coming to mind was “static”,  for me the sculptures seemed not to have any real sculptural movement in them yet they depicted human beings involved in all sorts of activities. It made me think about the element of movement in sculpture. As sculpture is by very nature static, it doesn’t move itself, the depiction of a moving human being has to be done using the sculptural language, it is illusory. When this is done well it gives a sculpture a feeling of energy and vitality.

I had visited the  National Gallery of Norway the day before and looked  again at some small sculptures by Degas and one by Rodin  that always excite me.

These two sculptors had their own different ways own way of creating a sense of movement, for example Rodin’s work which is strong on sculptural movement,  creates tension by depicting the exact moment when movement is about to start and we complete the movement in our imagination. Just to portray someone running by spreading the legs into a running position doesn’t convey the feeling of movement.

The Rodin sculpture (left) looks as if the man is about to either fall or drop
the other person, while in the Vigeland the man is firmly planted on the
ground  and seems quite capable of supporting the other person.
Iris by August Rodin

Degas,  accepts that a sculpture itself is static but he magically  manipulates the profile lines to make it appear to move as the viewer moves around it.
Summing up I feel that Vigeland often leads you to expect this element of movement through his choice subject matter but he doesn’t deliver,  relying instead on the expression of the story of the human predicament to carry everything.

The next day I visited an exhibition of a more recent Norwegian sculptor  Aase Texmon Rygh who was born in 1925.

The exhibition of Aase Texmon Rygh
 Her answer to the problem of movement was to base nearly every sculpture on “The Mobius Strip” a surface with only one side and only one boundary component.

Mobius strip sculpture
 The problem with movement using this form is that it is always the same, you know exactly what is coming as you go around the object, there are no surprises, little tension and ultimately it can be rather boring.  It is a form that has been exhausted by the Swiss designer Max Bill in the 40's and 50's, who does manage to raise it to a higher level.
Its equivalent in music might be the “12 Bar Blues” a predictable and comfortable musical form, you always know where it is going and it gives pleasure when it gets there.

I was in Norway to attend the opening of an exhibition of another Norwegian artist Julia Vance.

Drawing by Julia Vance

She is a calligrapher and sculptor whose approach to movement comes from her training as a calligrapher.  The sense of movement in writing performed with a wide brush comes from the natural widening and narrowing of the marks as the brush turns corners.

Marble sculpture by Julia Vance
Julia sometimes uses this approach in her sculpture, narrowing and widening a form to give a sense of movement. The art comes in the creators sensitivity to the moving line, which I find really strong in her work
Marble sculpture by Julia Vance
I feel there is also a constant searching and development in her work, unlike the other two sculptors who both  found formulas to produce work and were prone to repeat them 'ad infinitum'.  

The exhibition of Julia Vance.


  1. I'm with you on this one. Julia's lines are never clumsy and there's so much variety in her work - also like the way she explores interior space.

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  3. "Her answer to the problem of movement was to base nearly every sculpture on “The Mobius Strip” a surface with only one side and only one boundary component." Nearly every sculptre? The exhibition you visited was focused on the Mobius-series, which is the most resent and popular of her works. However she has many more sculptures in the theme of "dans" (dance) and various other themes. I'd say about a fifth or less of her individual works are in the mobius range. Here's a picture from one of her non-mobius exhibitions :