The unexpected and previously unexplored parallels between the work of Edvard Munch and Robert Mapplethorpe are the subject matter of a new exhibition – 'Mapplethorpe + Munch' – at Oslo’s Munch Museum, designed by international architecture and brand design firm Snøhetta.

The fourth in an ambitious series of six '+ Munch' exhibitions at the Norwegian museum, this latest installments marks perhaps the most surprising – if not most ‘contemporary’ – pairing yet (previous '+ Munch' dialogues have featured the work of Munch-era artists like Van Gogh and Vigeland). But despite their many differences, similarities arise between the Norwegian expressionist painter and the American photographer, due in great part to the medium in which they are presented. 

Both the exhibition and the catalogue follow the flow of curator Jon-Ove Steihaug's essay, which compares and contrasts the two artists. To begin the exhibition, Snøhetta have created a cleansing threshold of large-scale, shredded banners. Emblazoned with the exhibition’s title, the banner's graphic, bold black and white lettering plays with perspective as you pass through, making the once clear title an abstract and near indistinguishable start. ‘The transition from ordinary life into the fictitious world of art thus becomes both a sensory and mind-cleansing experience,’ explains the design firm. 

Colour plays an active role throughout the exhibition itself; not in the traditional sense of the art (most all of the 141 photographs of Mapplethorpe’s on show are in black and white, with only a sparing few of Munch’s 95 pieces employing colour) but in the walls on which it hangs. A deep blueish-grey tint serves as the main canvas, contrasted sharply by the fleshy pink hue of the first room and exit. Partition walls running parallel with the longest walls of the museum are painted white, in sharp juxtaposition with the sombre black walls that accommodate the most controversial images on show. 

Also responsible for the design of an accompanying catalogue, Snøhetta have devised a concept that mirrors the exhibition’s bold colour choices, most readily on the cover. The same pink tint of the entrance features here, balanced with the shredded banner’s graphic font in debased black foil and double portrait. The inner layout features images gravitating towards the bottom of the pages, with generous space above allowing the contrasts in both artists’ work to stand clear. Technical information at the back of the book gains a new, textural dimension with the use of matte paper.