It Might Be Beautiful. The art collector Rolf Stenersen
Highlights from Norway’s foremost collector of modern art in the 20th century
Who was Rolf Stenersen and what drove him to donate two unique art collections to the public?
With over 160 highlights from the collections, the exhibition explores Stenersen’s artistic ideals, interests, and ambitions.
On display until 27 August.Buy ticket
Rolf Stenersen (1899–1978) was Norway’s foremost collector of modern art in the 20th century.
At the age of just 37, he donated a large collection of pictures by Edvard Munch and recent Norwegian artists to the city of Oslo.
In 1971, he gifted a new collection of works by European modernists including Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, and Sonia Delaunay to the city of Bergen.
Today, the two collections, which together contain more than a thousand works, are managed by Kode in Bergen and MUNCH in Oslo.
“It Might be Beautiful” presents a broad selection of highlights from the two collections.
By bringing these two collections together for the first time in fifty years, the exhibition sheds light on Stenersen’s importance for Norwegian art.
Represented are major international and Norwegian artists such as Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, Edvard Munch, Else Hagen, Per Krohg, Reidar Aulie, Arne Ekeland, Jakob Weidemann, Max Ernst, Teddy Røwde, Käthe Kollwitz, Helene Schjerfbeck, and Wassily Kandinsky.
Pablo Picasso: Sylvette (1953). Foto: Dag Fosse. © Succession Pablo Picasso / BONO
Asger Jorn: Komposisjon, udatert. Foto: Dag Fosse/Kode
Else Hagen: Familie, 1950. Foto: Richard Jeffries/Munchmuseet
Gunnar S. Gundersen: Hvit sol / White Sun (1966)
Edvard Munch: Melankoli, 1911. Foto: Ove Kvavik/Munchmuseet
Ludvig Karsten: Portrett av Rolf Stenersen, 1925. Sten Stenersen Jr. samling. Foto: Tor S. Ulstein /Kunstdok
Jakob Weidemann: Den gale, 1943. Foto: Juri Kobayashi/Munchmuseet
Who was Rolf Stenersen?
Rolf Stenersen was a stockbroker, art collector, sprinter, and author. While still young, he became acquainted with Edvard Munch and followed the artist closely throughout his latter decades
Having discovered the work of Munch, Stenersen turned his interest to younger contemporary Norwegian artists. Later, his collection acquired a more international profile.
Under a number of thematic headings, the exhibition draws on archive material and Stenersen’s own writings, in addition to the collection itself, to highlight central currents in 20th century art.
The collection was assembled in a period when artists were experimenting with form and colour in new ways. Thus it provides a unique picture of the evolution of modern art during the first half of the 20th century and of the importance of the collector for the artists of his day.
In interviews, Stenersen himself said that he did not apply the “attitude of a judge” when viewing new art. The fact that most people were only interested in what was beautiful was something he condemned as “a kind of spiritual laziness”.
Pablo Picasso: Død hane og krukke / Dead Cock and Jar (1953). Foto: Dag Fosse. © Succession Pablo Picasso / BONO
Per Krohg: Skuespillerinnen, trolig 1927. Foto: Richard Jeffries/Munchmuseet
Paul Klee: Innhegning for tykkhuder, 1940. Foto: Dag Fosse/Kode
Siri Derkert: Fuglelandskap, udatert. Foto: Dag Fosse/Kode
Käthe Kollwitz: Døden med pike på fanget, 1934-37. Foto: Dag Fosse/Kode
Sonia Delaunay: Komposisjon nr. 1173 / Composition No. 1173 (udatert / undated)
Art, literature, and capital
Stenersen contributed actively to contemporary debates about art, variants of the Norwegian language, monetary policy, sexual morals, and psychoanalysis. He was not afraid of stirring controversy
As a writer, he was interested in subconscious drives and experimented with automatic writing. Also as a collector, Stenersen preferred pictures that offered insights into the hidden aspects of the human condition.
The works he collected address themes such as sexuality, loneliness, illness, guilt, and shame, forming a spectrum that covers most of the experience of life. The collection has been interpreted as a self-portrait of the collector himself.
Related program and stories
About the exhibition
The exhibition will be shown at Kode from 10 March–27 August. The project is a collaboration between MUNCH and Kode.
Curator for Kode: Frode Sandvik
Curator for MUNCH: Kari J. Brandtzæg
Book editor: Heidi Amundsen
To accompany the exhibition, a book with the same title has been published. "It Might be Beautiful. The art collector Rolf Stenersen" offers insights into Stenersen’s writings, his interests as a collector, and his major importance as a mediator for the artists of his time.
A cool and colorful exhibition, with over 160 artworks to explore!