Held at Kistefos Museum outside Oslo on Sunday, the opening of Landmark Exhibit, featuring contemporary arts from the famous Chinese artist ‘Ai Weiwei’, drew a lot of attention from locals and tourists in the region. While the museum was packed with a lot of interested art lovers, Norwegian government officials were absent.
Ranked as one of the most powerful artists in the world, Ai Weiwei couldn’t attend the opening as he remains in house arrest in China after recently being released from prison.
According to the museum director Egil Eide, Norwegian government officials who have attended and spoken at Kistefos openings every year since the museum itself opened in the early 1990s, didn’t have time to attend the opening this year.
In fact, Diplomatic relations between Norway and China have been frozen since the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to another Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo, in 2010.
The Ai Weiwei Exhibit was initiated by Kistefos’ new chief curator, Gerd Elise Morland, last Fall where she tapped into her network to secure an exhibit of Ai Weiwei’s provocative photography that was shown at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris last winter. The exhibit is produced in collaboration with the Fotomuseum Winterhur of Switzerland.
Given the sensitive relations between Norway and China at present, Morland said she thought it was ‘really brave’ of the museum’s board to approve and mount the exhibit.
“We like to be brave,” claimed Christen Sveaas, the Norwegian businessman and philanthropist who founded and financially supports the museum. However, he stressed that Kistefos simply wants to show the works of ‘great international artists’ and that Ai Weiwei is among the greatest artists at present.
The museum receives no state support but applied and quickly received funding from the Fritt Ord Foundation, a Norwegian organization committed to promoting freedom of expression. Fritt Ord provided NOK 500,000 to back the work of an artist whose own freedom of expression has been severely challenged by Chinese authorities.
For interested people, the Ai Weiwei Exhibit at Kistefos Museum runs until October 7.