Towards a Shared Vision
Responding to a request from Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo in 1959, the Sonja Henie and Niels Onstad decided to make their collection available to the public.
Over the course of the following two years, the collection was taken on a broad exhibition tour to 17 key institutions throughout Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, England, France, Austria and Switzerland. The tour enjoyed enormous success, and provided both Henie and Onstad with first hand knowledge of contemporary art institutions worldwide.
The collection continued to increase during this period, and in 1961 the Sonja Henie and Niels Onstad Trusts were created as two separate gifts with the establishment of a modern art museum as the primary aim. These gifts generated the largest private art donation in Norwegian history.
The decision on the location for the art center fell to Bærum community, where a 140 acre public lot was placed at the disposal of the municipality. After a board of directors for the foundations and other bodies were established, and with Ole Henrik Moe appointed as director, preparations began for the museum pilot project.
In October 1962, an architectural competition to design the new art museum was held. The prize was awarded to the young Norwegian architects Jon Eikvar and Svein Erik Engebretsen. After two years of preparation, the building was erected between 1966 and 1968.
The two founders followed the entire process watchfully, both as forerunners and promoters. Their wish was for the Kunstsenter to become a central arena for national and international artistic expressions. Among the preamble statutes, the founders clearly stated their intention to create an art centre which encouraged interaction between art, artist and the public.
The opening of the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter in 1968 signaled a new type of institution, one which not only housed the extensive art collection of Henie and Onstad, but which also served as a vibrant centre for interdisciplinary activities. At the opening, Arne Nordheim premiered his commissioned work Solitaire in front of a star-studded auditorium, which was attended by the royal family as well as 650 invited guests from Norway and abroad.