So the reason I was on the roof is that it is actually the main exterior public space at the new opera (the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet).  Oslo’s biggest attraction nowadays is this wonderful building designed by the architectural firm Snøhetta.


Photo:  Christopher Hagelund

I’ll briefly describe the building’s massing: the oak-covered auditorium (below, right) is enclosed by a glass box containing the huge entry space that opera houses traditionally have (the sequence of entry spaces at Garnier’s Second Empire Paris Opera take up as much volume as the auditorium does).  You can see (above) that the glass box is almost bisected on three of its sides by the white Carrara marble roof, which is folded downwards like origami towards the fjord.  Beneath this diagonal roof are the other public interior spaces (restaurants, bookshop, etc.); these have glass walls that on one side of the building overlook the city, and on the other, the fjord.

Walking up to the top of the roof it’s blindingly white in the sun, and vast.  It’s like a fifteen-minute polar expedition.

But I’m not here to talk about architecture.  Every state-funded building in Norway is required to spend money on art, and there were some big international competitions at the opera — an enclosure for the cloakrooms made by Olafur Eliasson, and the curtain in the auditorium, amongst other things.  The last piece was installed in May, eighteen months after the building opened.  This is it:

It’s called She Lies by Monica Bonvicini, an Italian artist.  As it says in Wikipedia:

There has been a lot of controversy around this sculpture. Many people say that it looks like a piece of garbage, while others are exclusively positive, and say it is a beautiful piece of art.

And that’s not a bad discussion to have; people’s opinions of what’s beautiful are usually only spontaneous reactions.   At first I thought it looked broken, but by the end of my visit I was feeling quite pleased with it.  It takes the building’s connection with the Oslofjord and its ice:

and alludes to a painting from 1823,  Das Eismeer (Sea of Ice) by Caspar David Friedrich,

the centre of which it has represented in three dimensions :

The glass and its twelve-metre-high steel framework sit on a concrete raft floating on the water; it’s anchored, and slowly rotates in place according to the prevailing wind and the tide.  Its profile and the reflections, transparency and double reflections off the water vary all the time.

The title of the piece, She Lies, doesn’t really work in either Norwegian or Italian, the artist’s mother tongue, only in English.  Bonvicini  says she means it to be ambiguous and has given possible interpretations: with  “she” being either the piece or the artist, and “lies” referring to both global warming in the Arctic and floating next to the building.  Well, whatever.  There’s always the danger of  a postmodern artist overestimating the potential of their multi-layered ideas — and Bonvicini is no Brunelleschi: not a master builder as well as an artist.  In fact, resolving the technological problems and the logistics  of how to build a painting of ice and then move this 335 ton object to the site was done by the Norwegians, especially the contractor.  Apparently it was a painful process, but it was worth the trouble.