On my birthday, we took the goats for a walk.

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Then, in the evening, we had dinner at Aker Brygge, a nineteenth-century former shipyard by the fjord, in the centre of Oslo. There’s a ferry terminal, new apartments and offices, some shopping and lots of restaurants.  At the city-end of the quayside is the Oslo town hall, and across the water is the medieval fortress where after the Second World War Vidkun Quisling was imprisoned and subsequently shot.

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I knew vaguely that bewhiskered Italian architect Renzo Piano had designed the relocated Astrup Fearnley Museum of contemporary art at Aker Brygge, but I hardly ever go to Oslo nowadays and I hadn’t seen it until that evening.  (This symmetrical black & white boat goes to and from the little islands in the fjord where city dwellers have weekend cabins.  From Monday to Friday these boats ferry commuters from the far shore.)

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I was quite impressed by the outside of the museum.  You reach it by walking down a pier that’s an extension of the wharf. The institution is divided into three buildings: temporary exhibitions are on the left, offices are on the right, and the permanent collection – there’s a tawdry Michael Jackson by Jeff Koons, old cows and butterflies by Damien Hirst, but also decent work by Anselm Kiefer, Bruce NeumanGerhard Richter and others – is at the far end, on the right. They are tied together by an enormous glass curved roof.

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The roof has sections cut out of it over the canal.  The cut outs make it look a bit fussy from a distance but it’s spectacular while you’re walking underneath it along the quayside,

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or crossing one of the bridges that link the buildings.

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There are a few pieces of art outside.  The one I liked best was this huge Antony Gormley figure that’s stuck to the side of the permanent collection building.  I’m not usually a fan of his rusty steel and bronze men but I suppose they’re all about location, location, and in this context the man was an agreeable relief to all the grey steel structure.

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What I like best about this museum is the way it has been sited. The quay terminates in this little beach (and a big garden to its left, by the water). There was no sun on the beach when we were there because it was about ten at night, but in good weather during the day I imagine it’s crowded. On the water it was still sunny at ten.

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And then you turn around and see Oslo harbour. Back down the canal and framed by the museum buildings are the two redbrick towers of Oslo town hall, this is the place where the king presents the Nobel peace prize every November.

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A week later, we came back during opening hours.  We were curious to see the inside.

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The museum was showing a big Cindy Sherman retrospective. That’s a big retrospective and, in places, a big Cindy.  The piece below had been stuck to the wall like wallpaper. I noticed the cut around the doorway was beautifully made, very precise; God knows how it was done.

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There is one very big wall, lit from the glass roof:

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Alma said the circulation – how you move through the sequence of spaces – was awkward.

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And she’s right: big galleries, small galleries, over bridges,

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up and down steep flights of stairs.  It’s all too chopped up. Figuring out your next move takes your mind away from the exhibition.

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One huge open space divided by moveable low partitions would have been more suitable, she said and I agreed.

By that time we were at the Caffe Renzo, overlooking the beach.  It has an excellent view down the fjord towards home.

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What makes the Astrup Fearnley notable to me is the large amount of exterior public space and the way the museum has been planned by Renzo Piano to make use of it. The idea that a city can never have too much public space has been a theme of Piano’s and Richard Rogers’s work ever since the 1970s, when they designed the Centre Pompidou, in Paris, together. The city of Oslo planners deserve praise too. I suppose almost every capital has lots of  museums and other cultural buildings, these days. Oslo is no exception: as well as the Astrup Fearnley it has the opera house designed by Snøhetta. That opened in 2009, and next door to it a new museum is being built to house the works of Edvard Munch. Both of these buildings are also by the harbour but over on the east side of town, and they too have lots going on outdoors: outdoor cafes that overlook the fjord and broad terraces that lead down to the water.  They embrace the city.

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