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The Thief Hotel, Oslo, Norway

The Thief Hotel, Oslo, Norway

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Few hotels these days have as disruptive a name as The Thief. But its unusual name is an authentic part of its DNA: it is borrowed from the island known in the 18th century as Thief Island. A former den of vagabonds, it was a true derelict site: a prison inlet where thieves, robbers and murderers were imprisoned and often executed.

Within the last decades, however, the inlet has been repurposed and expanded into something new: the Tjuvholmen, an islet that includes, parks, residences, The Thief Hotel, and next door, the Astrup-Fearnley Museum, designed by Renzo Piano. All of the buildings on the Tjuvholmen overlook the Oslofjord, allowing great waterfront views from all areas. And The Thief, located on the edge of the car-free Tjuvholmen Peninsula, is almost entirely surrounded by water. The Thief was opened in January of 2013.


The Thief is a cutting edge member of Design Hotels, a group headed by Petter Stordalen, a well-known activist, philanthropist, billionaire and by his own admission, hotel nerd. After seeing the Thief Island, he envisioned two similar ideas: first, he wanted to create an cutting edge, iconic hotel, which would, in turn help Oslo’s artistic renaissance move forward. He succeeded with both. With the architectural design created by Ajas Mellbye, the 119 rooms, lobby, and restaurant interiors all have contemporary artwork on its walls, in its furniture, everywhere. Upon entering The Thief from outside, a cowering statue by Antony Gormley, called Draw, is in front, giving the visitor a sense of the hotel’s contemporary gestalt even before entering.


Ajas Mellbye, an awards-winning founder of Mellbye Archtects Oslo, architected The Thief , with the idea that involved light and dark interplay of exterior and interior. He said that the multifaceted facade — ” with shadow effects, screening, and glimpses of life… create a thrilling whole.” The exterior also creates a sort of subjective partnership with it’s neighbor, the Astrup-Fearnley Museum, next door. There is a similarity of design, though not exact.


There is also a play of light and dark with The Thief that was not accidental. As even though there is dark sense, a kind disruptive tone to the hotel as seen through its art, and as known through its DNA, there is also a lighter quality to its interiors, as the first two floors, the public areas, are open with floor to ceiling windows, with water views surrounding most all areas. The rooms have glass facades, and their balconies are created of wood and glass also.


Next to the registration desk is a large floor to ceiling inkjet on canvas work called The Horse Thief, by Richard Prince. In the lobby area is a exceptional sculpture by Niki De Saint Phalle, Le Grand Rossignol, with further works by Andy Warhol, from the Ladies And Gentlemen collection, plus other artwork by upcoming Scandinavian artists, digital prints by Marianne Heske, ink drawings by Bard Breivik, lithography by Bjorn Ransave, etchings by Astrid Sylwan; also a series of photographs by Bryan Ferry, and etchings by Anthony Cragg. And this is just a very short list, of all the bronzes, silkscreens, photo engravings, monotypes, ink drawings there are to be seen and sensorily ingested at The Thief.


The interiors of the hotel reflects a kind of deeply committed contemporary innovation, created by its own art curator, Sune Nordgren, the former director of Norway’s National Museum. His attention to innovative detail move even into the elevators, where there are supposedly still video images of large portraits of women, created by videographer Julian Opie. Then they blink and sometimes wink at those taking the elevators up and down.

Nordgren said in a recent interview that he is redefining the term “hotel art,” by allowing the guests quality experiences, “…causing reflection and perhaps changing their perception of reality for a brief moment.” So true.


Part of the Thief’s collection is on loan from the Renzo Piano architected Astrup- Fearnley Gallery where the Thief has partnered. The Thief room keys grant free access to the Astrup-Fearnley, that display works by Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, among others. Over the last decade, the Museum has concentrated intensively on American contemporary artists, and younger artists like Paul Chan, Frank Benson, Nate Lowman, and Dan Colen, to name just a few. The outdoor sculpture gallery is also exceptional, as beyond the artwork, is view of the Fjord, and beyond that, is a view of Akershus, an historic fortress that protected Oslo, built in the 1200’s. It’s a vision of Oslo’s past, melding with the Thief’s and the Astrup-Fearnley’s contemporary present.


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