‘It’s not art: it’s a house’

The dilapidated wooden house that appeared last month on the square outside Norway's parliament has delighted Oslo residents and visitors alike. Is it art? "No", says Marianne Heske, the conceptual artist behind it. "It's just a house"

'It's not art: it's a house'
Marianne Heske's House of Commons project will be on display until January. Photo: Oslo Pilot
For the project, entitled House of Commons, Heske, one of Norway's leading conceptual artists, had a small abandoned provincial house from Østfold, south of Oslo, moved to a space in front of the Storting, the seat of Norway’s parliament. 
The house, which was unveiled on October 21st, has generated huge interest over the past two weeks, with an average of 700 people an hour coming to visit it over the weekends. 
“It is incredible really. It’s touching something in people obviously,” Heske told The Local. “People are reacting so much, people are queuing up all the time. It’s been in all the newspapers, and they are all kind of surprised, because it's only a simple house.” 
Heske's most famous project saw her dismantle a 17th Century Norwegian log cabin and reassemble it within the halls of the Pompidou Centre in Paris. 
“I never said it was art,” she said of the Østfold house. “Artists are insistent about things being their work, but it's not my work, I just moved it. I don’t say anything about it. I just move the house. That’s it. I don’t say a word.” 
She said she believed the house, which like the parliament building in front of it, was built about 150 years ago, had been transformed by its new setting. 
“it’s an old farmhouse for a small farmer and now it’s in a new setting, so it’s changed into the House of Commons — that's our mind-screening, it’s our way of seeing it.” 
She said the work was intended to confront the oil-rich country Norway had become with its more humble past. 
“Norway has changed enormously,” she said. “You can’t imagine the simple life which they had in the house. They would have been growing their own vegetables, fishing their own fish, making their own clothes and living very cleanly, with no money of course.” 
She said she had first noticed the house some time ago. 
“I was driving past it so many times, and I was watching it just falling apart almost, and nobody lived there, so I asked a man in a neighbouring house who it belonged to. He said it belonged to the Norwegian Public Road Administration, and they wanted to take it down, of course, because they are building this highway to Sweden, so I asked them if I could use it for art, and they said 'OK'.” 
She said that she had now had so much interest from art collectors wanting to buy the building that she planned to auction it off after the exhibition was over in January. 
Despite her playfully spare descriptions of the work, Heske said that she saw the project as a way of “moving realities around”.   
“My work is thinking. I’m not a carpenter. I'm more like a philosopher. Moving realities around,” she said. “People think that reality is fixed, but it’s not, you know.” 

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Paul Gauguin’s ‘Mata Mua’ returns to Spain

One of French painter Paul Gauguin's most famous paintings, "Mata Mua", will return to a Madrid museum on Monday following an agreement between the Spanish government and its owner, who took it out of the country.

mata mua madrid
Toward the end of his life, Gauguin spent ten years in French Polynesia, where he completed some of his most famous artwork Painting: Paul Gaugin

The artwork had been on display for two decades at Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza museum but in 2020 when the institution closed because of the pandemic, the painting’s owner Carmen Thyssen moved it to Andorra where she currently lives.

Her decision to take “Mata Mua” to the microstate sandwiched between Spain and France raised fears she would remove other works from her collection which are on display at the museum.

“It is expected that the painting will arrive today,” a spokeswoman for the museum told AFP.


In 1989, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza bought Mata Mua at the Sotheby’s auction in New York. Painting: Paul Gauguin

The artwork will go back on display to the public “a few days after” Thyssen signs a new agreement with the Spanish state for the lease of her collection, she added. The deal is expected to be signed on Wednesday.

Painted in 1892 in vivid, flat colours, “Mata Mua” depicts two women, one playing the flute and the other listening, set against a lush Tahitian landscape.

It is one of the stars of Thyssen’s collection of several hundred paintings which are on show at the museum, including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet.

Her collection had initially been displayed at the Madrid museum as part of a free loan agreement signed in February 2002 that was subsequently extended.

But in August 2021 Spain’s culture ministry announced it had reached an agreement with Thyssen to rent the collection from her for 15 years for €97.5 million ($111.5 million), with “preferential acquisition rights on all or part” of the works. The collection includes a Degas, a Hopper and a Monet.

Aside from housing her collection of works, the museum displays the collection of her late husband, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Swiss heir to a powerful industrial lineage who died in Spain in 2002.

The Spanish state bought his collection in 1993 from $350 million, according to the museum.