The director of Norway’s National Museum backed down on Monday from a controversial decision to put away painter Christian Krohg’s beloved 1893 artwork ‘Leif Erikson discovering America,’ insisting the Norwegian artist had “not been cancelled.”
“We thought there were other works by Krohg that were more interesting to display,” museum director Karin Hindsbo said, making no reference to the controversial explanation that the National Museum’s director of collections, Stina Hoegkvist, had given to news outlet Aftenposten just days earlier.
Addressing complaints from the public about the painting's disappearance, Hoegkvist told the newspaper that ‘Leif Erikson discovering America’ was sent to basement storage because it “romanticized Norwegians who went to America.”
“It is a colonialistic picture,” she clarified, explaining that she and her colleagues at the new museum were seeking to “challenge a standard” by elevating the works of “more female artists, more Sami artists, and more art by people who don’t happen to be born with white skin.”
Some art critics immediately accused Hoegkvist of “cancelling” Krohg. “This is an unwise way of managing the National Museum’s collection,” said state broadcaster NRK’s culture commentator, Agnes Moxnes, suggesting the national museum should “lift up and show off our national icons.”
Progress Party MP Silje Hjemdal decried the “dangerous” move in comments to news outlet Dagsavisen, warning it indicated “a lack of understanding of our history.”
Hoegkvist's outrage was actually misguided, Reds Party MP Mimir Kristjansson suggested to NRK, pointing out that “Leif Erikson didn’t colonize America. There were others who did that.”
Conservative MP and deputy head of the culture committee, Tage Pettersen, demanded an official response from Minister of Culture and Equality Anette Trettebergstuen regarding “how she views the need for a cultural canon in large national art institutions” in the wake of the controversy, Aftenposten reported. Trettebergstuen must answer before parliament by the end of the week.
On Sunday, Hoegkvist apologized for her “careless” remarks to Aftenposten and said the museum had merely “wanted to devote space to something other than this painting by Krohg.”
Erikson, a Viking adventurer, is believed to have been the first European to set foot in North America. He landed on the coast of what is now Newfoundland around the turn of the 11th century, centuries before the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus discovered the continent, which was already occupied by indigenous peoples.