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Human Column, symbolic conception of post-existence

The 1998 exhibition Pictures for the Blue Room in the Vigeland Museum in Oslo represented a breach of Gustav Vigeland’s last will and testament in which he stipulated that no other artist than himself was to ever exhibit in the Vigeland museum he had founded during his lifetime. The Norwegian sculptor Vigeland (1872-1943), colleague and enemy of Edward Munch, worked his entire life on an œuvre centred around man’s life cycle. He crafted many complex compositions of laboriously intertwined nude figures. Dozens of symbolic sculptures, with titles such as Wheel of Life and Human Column, have been collected to furnish Vigeland Park. Hated by his surroundings, this sculptor attained a prominent position in early 20th century Norway. Especially his alleged collaboration with the Nazis, and the way in which he used to humiliate those close to him, notably his second wife, make that he still is a controversial figure today.
The top floor of the museum houses his – obviously self-styled – mausoleum with his urn surrounded by self-made reliefs. Vigeland’s own quarters, above the museum’s galleries, have remained untouched since his decease. In one of those rooms, richly decorated with paintings by his own hand, lies a photograph of Vigeland’s second wife, Ingerid Vigeland. Shortly after their marriage, Vigeland decided never to speak to Ingerid again, and he is reputed to have kept his word. The look on this young woman’s face confirms the legend that she wrote her much older husband a note every day, requesting permission to speak to him.
The artwork Human Column, symbolic conception of post-existence, consist of three photos, and portrays Gustav Vigeland from a modern moral perspective. At first sight, the photo on the right seems to depict a mass grave in a concentration camp, but on closer look proves to be a picture of a number of sculptures hidden by the Nazis. The photo on the left is a reproduction of Rubens’ Judgement Day, which was said to be plagiarised by Vigeland for his masterpiece: Human Column. In the centre is the picture of Vigeland’s last sculpture, his self-portrait.
Due to insufficient public interest, in 1998 the artist’s selfish last will was broken. Among work by other artists now hangs the portrait of a narcissistic and unloved man, trapped in a Faustian pact.
Vigeland wanted to command his influence beyond his own life. He could not, however, rule the ways human morality changes, and in this exhibition, that is his undoing. The sculptor’s tools in his hands have, with the aid of the computer, been changed for Ingerid’s picture. For the first time she too enters his Blue Room. He reveals her, she reveals him.

Source: Hans van Houwelingen, design clarification, Amsterdam 1998