Let’s talk art

Confused about contemporary art? At The Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo the museum guards are more than happy to help. 

The word guard is perhaps a little sinister, but that’s what we like to call them, the people who watch over the collections at major art institutions. Barley noticeable most of the time, as they stand with their hands crossed or sit in a corner on a chair. But at The Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo they’re not called guards, they’re called hosts and their main task is not to watch over the art, but to talk about it. Museum Director Gunnar B. Kvaran got the idea in the 1990s, when the museum was located in far more modest premises in Dronningens gate in Oslo.

– I´ve always been interested in mediation and thought we could do something more when it came to the role of the guards. That´s when I came upon the idea of getting rid of the security staff and replacing them with highly educated, young people that could talk to visitors about the collection.

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Today, both professional artists, art history and philosophy students work part time as hosts at the Astrup Fearnley Museum. When the museum moved into a new monumental seafront building at Tjuvholmen, designed by architect Renzo Piano, the number of hosts went from 15 to around 50.

– We then noticed that the hosts became a bit passive in this new, larger environment and that they were not visible enough. We thought this would be a great opportunity to do something about what they wore and also a nice way to engage an emerging Norwegian fashion designer.

The museum decided to contact Charlie Selvig, part of the designer duo Batlak and Selvig in the late 2000s. She took on the job of creating new uniforms for the hosts, who until that point had used their own clothes at work.

– The museum was very clear that they did not want a traditional security uniform that signaled that the hosts were there to protect the art, says Selvig.

– Instead they wanted to make emphasis on the knowledge the hosts actually have of the collection.

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“Let´s talk art” is spelled out in white letters on the back of the dark blue denim vests that Selvig created for the hosts. A clear message that the designer felt was necessary so not to wrap the role of the hosts in further mystery. 

– I think many people feel that a contemporary art museum is a large, white cube containing a lot of things we do not understand. I was very pleased to discover that Astrup Fearnley Museum’s ambition is to address a wide audience and give them a greater understanding of art.

– Why did you choose to use denim?

– I knew that the uniform would have to be unisex, that it would be made in one size and consist of just one piece of clothing – it was never supposed to be a complete outfit. Denim is a material that works on many levels, in many different cultures and across genders. It’s also very accessible, which is something that was important to us. It´s a material that most people can relate to.

The shape of the vest is partly inspired by an old fisherman’s vest that grandfather of Charlie Selvig owned.

– The lines of the west represented something very genuine to me. It seemed very little strict. 

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The new uniforms will be put in use in conjunction with the museum’s new exhibition Matthew Barney – Bildungsroman. A limited number of vests will be put up for sale in the museum shop. And in the event that Barney’s art leaves you slightly puzzled, all you have to do is ask. 

Matthew Barney – Bildungsroman at The Astrup Fearnley Museum until May 15th. Cinemateket in Oslo also shows Barneys film River of Fundament. 

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