Vigelandsanlegget – Vigeland Sculpture Park

Visiting Oslo, Norway, a few weeks ago, I went to see one of the most popular attractions.

In Frogner Park, is the famous Vigeland installation, a permanent sculpture installation of 212 bronze and granite pieces created by Gustav Vigeland between the 1920s and 1943. I was enthralled by the granite sculptures of humanity in all of its phases. There are sculptures from babies to old women, lovers and haters, athletes and the infirm, the dying and the dead. The sheer number, the largest installation of a single artist’s work in the world, has considerable power.IMG_7456

The humans represented are naked. I can’t imagine that sculptures of naked men holding naked children would be acceptable in today’s prurient America. It would be as if a collection of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs were turned to stone and populated Central Park.

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As magnificent as the collection of work is, I felt an underlying discomfort. I couldn’t identify it until I returned home, although, at the time, I asked the guide at the museum whether Vigeland was a Nazi sympathizer. She said, “No”. Why did I ask this? I felt something.

Pola Gauguin, son of Paul Gauguin, and a prominent art critic of the time, wrote that the installation “reeks of Nazi mentality.” Ah, that’s it. Beyond the technical wonder, the fascination of inspiration, the slight eroticism, lies the fascism.

The sculptures are heroic and romantic, themes that were dear to the Third Reich. What is interesting about Vigeland’s work is that it also includes the aged. One of the most powerful pieces is of two old woman with creased faces, flat breasts and sagging bellies. Does this not contradict the message of muscular humanity, “uncontaminated by Jewish influence” as the Nazis described their work?

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Gustav Vigeland was a Nazi sympathizer and supported Quisling’s collaborationist government. I don’t know what was in his mind when he imagined the sculptures. I just don’t know enough.

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Author: urbanehorticulture

A native of England a U.S. citizen for the past 30 years, I have worked in the garden world as a director and designer for over 35 years. I am best-known for my groundbreaking designs at Chanticleer, an estate and “pleasure garden” in Wayne, PA, where I worked for 20 years. Career Highlights I started my gardening life at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, England, where I was trained as a gardener. I worked in three other gardens in the UK, notably Portmeirion in Wales, Bateman’s in Sussex, and Cliveden in Buckinghamshire. At Bateman’s, I was responsible for the restoration of the 17th-century garden. I came to the U.S. in 1981 and was director and chief designer of Chanticleer in Pennsylvania for the next 20 years. I transformed a moribund private estate into one of America’s most exuberant, romantic and flamboyant gardens. Its glorious 47 acres have been celebrated by gardeners and horticulturists from around the world and, based on my designs, it continues to draw international visitors every season. After twenty years creating Chanticleer, I became vice president for horticulture for the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden and, in 2006, was appointed director of the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, Canada. While pleased to be in Canada, my heart yearned for California and in 2008 he was appointed executive director of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden. After a successful period in northern California, he returned to his home near Santa Barbara, CA where I operated my own design-consulting business. In 2012, I was lured back east by The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (founded in 1827) and appointed director of its private estate and garden, Meadowbrook Farm. I was commissioned by PHS to design the central feature for the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show, the third major exhibit I have designed for PHS over the years. Among numerous other responsibilities, I have been a member of the board of the Fairmount Park Conservancy in Philadelphia and a founding member of the business advisory board for the Flora of North America Project. I have designed gardens in Chicago, northern and southern California, and throughout the Northeastern United States. I have also been a consultant to the Garden Conservancy and to Botanic Gardens Conservation International, as well as serving on the horticulture advisory committee of Lotusland in Santa Barbara, California. I have been the Advancement Advisor for the Flora of North America Association and am now traveling the world researching, interviewing, and photographing for a book on gardens around the world. Books & Awards My n first book, The Encyclopedia of Perennials, was published in 1992 by Facts on File. I also contributed to 1001 Gardens to See Before You Die (Barron's Educational Series, 2012) and The Gardener’s Garden (Phaidon Press, 2014). In 2003, I was awarded the Professional Citation for significant achievements in public horticulture by the American Public Garden Association. In 2007, The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society awarded me its prestigious medal for Distinguished Achievement. I currently live in the Bay Area, California.

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