On the banks of the Glimma River in Hamarøy, Norway, there’s a stoic tower of a building that appears more like a medieval wooden church than a modern museum. That was the architect’s intent. American Steven Holl designed the Knut Hamsun Centre (Hamsunsenteret, in Norwegian) to reflect the Norwegian author’s celebrated and condemned career while living in Hamarøy. The landscape was the source of many of his stories including Growth of the Soil, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920. But his patriotism had “fatal consequences.” He sympathized with the Germans during World War II and was later diagnosed (post-war) as having “permanently impaired mental abilities.”
The Knut Hamsun Center honors Hamsun as an artist and also considers the constant public debate he generates on the relationship between fiction and society–and on the role of art and the artist. (Hamsun’s legacy is akin to that of the bombastic and forceful composer Richard Wagner, another Nazi-associated artist whose 200th birthday celebrations around the world this year also highlight uncomfortable questions about the responsibilities of the artist in society.) Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway and Isaac Bashevis Singer all expressed their artistic debt to Hamsun’s authorship. The Centre was formally opened by the Crown Princess Mette-Marit (heir apparent to the throne of Norway) in 2009.