Europe - Issue 7 - Magazine | Monocle

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Keep off the grass


Is donating 100 sculptures to Oslo a wonderful gift or just a way of imposing bad taste on the public? Wealthy Norwegian Christian Ringnes, 53, is causing controversy in the city with his plans to create a €30m park filled with sculptures of women. While most people and politicians in Oslo seem quite pleased with the idea, the art world has been up in arms, slamming the concept as “hideous”, “uninteresting”, “outdated” and “banal”. But Ringnes has hit back, explaining: “I have become rich on property in Oslo. Now it’s time for me to give something back.”

Ringnes, a brewery heir, owns more than 60 hotels. In 2001 he bought Ekebergrestauranten (below), the rundown restaurant perched on a hilltop overlooking Oslo. He gave it a €5m makeover and re-opened it for business two years ago. Now Ringnes wants to donate 100 sculptures of women to transform the surrounding 56 acres of land into a park. Ringnes claims that the strong position women hold in Norway makes them a natural theme.

But some believe the city land is too valuable to give away to “a multimillionaire with bad taste”, others argue that Oslo already has a very successful sculpture park, Vigelandsparken. And many think the theme of the park is outdated.

“Art has been a key factor in the age-old mythologisation of women, so this is the last thing we need in 2007. I’m not opposed to private sponsorship but I find this theme completely politically inane as an expression for a public space,” says Ina Blom, art critic and associate professor of art history at the University of Oslo.

To counter the criticism, Ringnes has suggested that an independent council of art experts be set up to assist in the selection of the pieces. “This is not going to be a wealthy, eccentric man sitting by himself selecting sculptures of naked women. The park will have one theme but the art works will vary from abstract and modern to figurative and classic,” he says.

Although the council will not decide if the park goes ahead until early next year, several politicians have already voiced their support for the project. Keen to push ahead, Ringnes has spent millions purchasing 17 sculptures, among them pieces by Botero, Dali, Renoir and Rodin. If Ringnes has his way, his women will be adorning the hills of Oslo by 2010.

Political tastes


Steadily eating its way to popular affection since publication at the end of last year, Le Goût des Belges is a vision of a country united by nothing but its tastes at the dining table. The book is an entertaining and gluttonous description of 150-odd things to eat and drink that, the authors argue, form a kind of collective unconscious for a country split by language and all that goes with it.

The French-speaking Walloons of the south and the Flemish-Dutch-speaking Flemings of the north watch separate television stations, read different newspapers and vote for their own political parties but they all know what to do when faced with a plate of waterzooi, the North Sea’s answer to bouillabaisse.

Known to Flemings as De Smaak van de Belgen, the book is the brainchild of Eric Boschman, a food writer, television presenter and celebrity sommelier, who was born in Wallonia but lives in Flanders. As the political impasse that followed the 10 June elections grew steadily more pungent this summer, Boschman was home in Sint-Pieters Kapelle, preparing a second volume. He has a finer nose for common ground than troubled prime minister-in-waiting Yves Leterme, who claimed that the only things Belgians share are “the King, the football team, some beers”.

The post-election standoff between parties of the north and south has brought discussion of an official (rather than cultural) split into the mainstream. Boschman hears such grumbles but is confident that few care enough to advocate dividing the country; they would rather save their focus for stoemp and boudin.

Nonetheless, King Albert II has been unable to raise a pair of negotiators from either side of the divide to bring parties from the north and south back to the table. Nobody is sure what will happen when Parliament reassembles in October.

Carte blanche


Despite the rapprochement between presidents Sarkozy and Bush, the French still fear that the Americans want to wipe them off the map. That’s what they think Googlemaps does and that’s why the Institut Géographique National in Paris has created (with government support) Géoportail, a rival global mapping service. First launched in 2006, it initially proved an embarrassment when it kept on crashing. Today it copes with up to nine million visitors a month. Unlike Google, Géoportail now includes even the remotest parts of France and its territories in high definition. A sister company, IFI, has been set up to sell its services to other countries unwilling to be Google poodles.

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