Vebjørn Sand

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Vebjørn Sand
BornMarch 11 1966
ResidenceTribeca, New York, NY

Vebjørn Sand (born March 11, 1966 in Bærum) is a Norwegian painter and artist. He is known for his paintings as well as his public arts projects, such as the Da Vinci Project, and the Kepler star monument (Norwegian Peace Star) at Oslo Airport, Gardermoen.[1]

Sand painted the official portrait of Ole Petter Ottersen, the rector of the University of Oslo.[2]

Early Life and Education[edit]

Vebjørn Sand was born March 11, 1966 in Bærum, Norway, and was raised on the coastal islands of Hvaler where his father Øivind Sand worked as a school teacher and painter at the Waldorf School in Bærum.[3][4]. His mother Kari Marie Søyland taught at the same school.[5] Thanks to his parents, he grew up surrounded by art, science, design and mathematics. The European Renaissance and the Baroque in particular were an early inspiration for Vebjørn due to the great advancements in art, science, and philosophy during that period.[6]

When he was just 16 years old, Vebjørn toured Norway as a caricature artist, and over the course of three summers he painted approximately 3,000 people. It was only after he left high school in Fredrikstad in 1985, that he started to paint in the classic European tradition and to master his craft, young Vebjorn redrew hundreds of master drawings and copied hundreds of paintings from museums in Europe and the USA. Of this period in his life Vebjørn said,

“[Copying the classics] was an excellent way to improve techniques. I knew that the whole secret was hard work; building stone by stone. One small step at a time. I was fanatic about my craft, and I worked like crazy."

Vebjørn studied under Walther Aas and Rolf Schønfeldt from 1983 - 86, then enrolled in the Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts where he spent 1986 - 88, and then had a one-year stay at the Academy of Fine Arts, Prague  before returning to the Academy in Oslo, where he left in 1990. He later studied at the Art Students League of New York.[7]

In 1991 while painting landscapes in Valdres, Vebjørn painted his work Okseryggen with oil paint, which gave him turpentine poisoning.[8] Beset by visual disturbances and chronic headaches, Vebjørn gave up oil paint and began looking for another outlet for his creative expression. Given the poor quality of the alternative acrylic paint at the time, Vebjørn decided that outdoor projects and public art would be his chosen medium.

Career and Work[edit]

Troll Castle[edit]

After an expedition to Antarctica, Queen Maud Land Vebjørn completed his first public work, The Troll Castle (Trollslottet) which was inspired by the voyage.[9] In collaboration with the team who arranged the opening of the Winter Olympics at Lillehammer in 1994, Vebjørn constructed this “Mini Antarctica” formed by 10 towers surrounding a circle, all reminiscent of Arnesteinen, a mountain shooting out of the ice in the shape of a cathedral.

Inside the castle Vebjørn included paintings he made in Antarctica, stored inside glass boxes to resemble ice. The castle was designed so that visitors could walk inside the space and experience a frigid atmosphere similar to the one Vebjørn did when he painted them.

During the first 3 months of its opening in the winter of 1997/98, 180,000 thousand people visited the Troll Castle.[10]

Kepler Star[edit]

Main article: Kepler Star[edit]

Vebjørn’s next public arts project was the Kepler Star, a permanent 45 meter high art installation by the Oslo Airport. Created to honor Doctors Without Borders for winning the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize, the star itself is based on a design from Johannes Kepler, further combined with a icosahedron - a polyhedron with 20 faces and one of the five platonic bodies, and consists of a skeleton made of steel with crinkled glass.[11] The star sits on three thirty meter high concrete pillars; inspired by the Nunataken in Queen Maud Land Vebjørn saw during his expedition to Antarctica in 1996.

Since then, the Kepler Star has seen many uses including being lit pink for breast cancer awareness month in October 2014. [12]

Leonardo Da Vinci Bridge[edit]

Main article: Vebjørn Sand Da Vinci Project[edit]

In 1996, Vebjørn saw Leonardo da Vinci’s sketch of a proposed bridge that would cross the Golden Horn “Haliç” in modern day Turkey. Sketched in 1502 for Sultan Bayezid II, it would have been 366 m (1,201 ft) long, overall and 24 m (79 ft) wide. Beyazid did not pursue the project, because he believed that such a construction was impossible.

Upon seeing the drawing, Vebjørn said “It was like finding an unplayed symphony of Mozart” and felt compelled to bring it to life.[13] He suggested the bridge be constructed in Norway, and reached out to the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (NPRA).

Construction began the same year and was completed in 2001. This scaled down version of the da Vinci Bridge now serves as a pedestrian and bike crossing over highway E18, 20 kilometres (12 mi) from Oslo, by the nearby village of Ås.

The da Vinci bridge outside of oslo

About Vebjørn’s ultimate goal with The da Vinci bridge, the Wall Street Journal wrote:

“He wanted not only to unite past with present, but also to remind the world that technology is at its best when it is informed with a sense of the transcendental. He saw his and da Vinci's bridge as ‘a meeting between heaven and earth, between the spiritual and the material realms.’” [14]

Nearly 500 years after da Vinci’s original sketch, the bridge was officially opened by Queen Sonja in November 2001. Vebjørn, noticing that mostly men were opening public works at the time, specifically chose the Queen to open the bridge - a gesture she mentioned in her remarks.[15] Of its completion Vebjørn said,

“It just had to be built. This has taken years of effort. The bridge is such a beautiful mixture between the functional and the aesthetic."

Since that unveiling, the Da Vinci Bridge has experienced international acclaim, being featured in publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Travel + Leisure and many more.[16][17][18] It was also named one of the five coolest bridges on earth by Wired magazine.[19]

Several more Da Vinci bridges were constructed by Vebjørn Sand including temporary ice ones to raise awareness for climate change.

The Golden Horn Bridge[edit]

To bring the project full circle, a small pedestrian version of the bridge, named The Golden Horn Bridge, was inaugurated in June 2016 in Clos Lucé, France. The bridge was erected to continue and celebrate the legacy and genius of Leonardo da Vinci masterpieces and works that were realized in France. Clos Lucé was Leonardo’s residence for his final years before he died in 1519.

Led by Clos Lucé officials with the advisement of Vebjørn, they brought together 30 professionals working for 3,500 hours to build the bridge. It was designed by Armedieval CCB Compagnons du Devoir, artisan craftsmen and women who specialize in ancient buildings.[20]

Arrival in New York[edit]

In order to explore the international art scene and to refine his technical skills Vebjørn left Norway for New York in 2000 and studied at the Art Students League of New York. Enjoying and finding freedom in the New York art scene, he rented a studio in Tribeca, in lower Manhattan where he rededicated himself to painting.

Becoming A Man[edit]

In 2008, Vebjørn began work on a series of paintings that examined modern Western masculine ideals, those that “only address ego, greed, and ambition. It is an absence of visions beyond themselves.” he said.[21]

Inspired by the work of American poet Robert Bly, he looked deeply into the lost initiation rights that helped channel budding masculinity into adulthood, and our youth centered culture, what Bly called the “Sibling Society”.[22] Becoming A Man debuted in May of 2008 at Galleri Sand.

Scenes from the Second World War & International Breakthrough[edit]

In 2011, Vebjørn began painting his series Scenes from the Second World War, a collection of paintings focused on WWII. In Vebjørn’s introduction to the project he points out that while there are many movies and books made of the war, there are little to no paintings or artwork. (ref1) Inspired to examine the human side of the conflict, Vebjørn aimed to ask these questions with Scenes:  “How could civilization collapse so completely? And: what does it mean to be a human being?”

Rather than depict bloody scenes and horrors, Vebjørn opted for singular moments in the war, such as A Scene from Wannsee, the secret Nazi conference in which the “Final Solution to the Jewish question” was decided January 1942, to the Nuremburg Trials to the myth of Josef Schulz, the German soldier who was supposedly shot by his comrades when he refused to execute prisoners in Yugoslavia. While the Holocaust was not the main focus of the paintings, Vebjørn’s acute paintbrush brought the horror to life in both the composite scenes and individuals, like the namesake in German Girl on a Road, May ‘45. Reflecting on the core message of Scenes, Vebjørn said:

“World War II shows that we were both angels and demons. I have called this series the individual's choice because the war puts us on trial morally and emotionally and demonstrated that we humans tolerate more than medical science thought… The exhibition is not about the past, but about existential choices that are still relevant.” [23]

Scenes from the Second World War opened in New York on November 10th, 2011 to critical acclaim. Part Two opened on May 3rd, 2012 with several new large canvases being added. The exhibition received both praise from several art critics and high profile sales, including 3 to American art collector Raymond J. Learsy and his wife Melva Bucksbaum for over a quarter of a million dollars or 2.1 million Norwegian Krone and 1 to an anonymous American newspaper publisher for upwards of 1 million kroner.[24]

The 22 painting series was not without controversy, however. Noted New York critic Donald Kuspit, impressed with the exhibition, advised Vebjørn to bring the exhibition to Germany. But after contacting German curators, Kuspit was informed that none of the galleries could showcase Vebjørn’s work. According to Vebjørn, given the subject matter and core themes of Scenes, it would be “too painful” for the Germans to show.[25]

While Scenes from the Second World War was already well received in the United States, bringing the exhibition to Norway was a personal victory for Vebjørn. Scenes opened March 2015 in Oslo, his largest exhibition in Norway in 8 years.[26] A highlight of the successful exhibition came from Stig Andersen, a famous art critic who had been highly critical of Vebjørn in years past. Of Scenes Andersen said,

“I think his second World War series is strong and he manages to create credible moods… This has clearly been the right way for him to go. Several of the paintings have a gripping content and are painstakingly conveyed.”

Guernica: A Turning Point[edit]

After Scenes, Vebjørn, still thoroughly captivated with the human stories and grand scale horror of World War II, began painting his next exhibition, Guernica: A Turning Point in early 2014.

The series focused on the Germans’ brutal attack on the Spanish city of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War in April 1937 that first introduced the concept of “Carpet Bombing”. While cities in Spain had been bombed by the Germans earlier in the war, Guernica was unique because it was both a military experiment conducted against a defenseless civilian population, and it left the city totally destroyed. Fewer than one percent of the buildings were left unscathed and while the official death toll was 1,654, many more were left forever buried under the ruins.

The attack was made infamous by artist Pablo Picasso after the war in his seminal painting “Guernica”. To Vebjørn, however, he found that Picasso’s work had grown to overshadow the very event itself:

- Picasso's painting really stands in the way of Guernica's turning point. It has become more famous than the city itself and what happened. It is iconic as a picture of war and terror, but with all due respect to Picasso, Guernica is so much more than what one sees in his great, famous painting,[27]

With Guernica, Vebjørn vowed to bring the history of the attack to the forefront with an entirely human perspective. After reading as much source material as he could, speaking with and meeting several historians of the attack, including Luis Iriondo who witnessed it in person at age 14, Vebjørn created nearly 70 unique paintings for the exhibit.[28] [29]

80 years after the original attack and 3 years after beginning the project, Vebjørn exhibited Guernica: A Turning Point in Oslo on April 26, 2017. It was Vebjørn’s largest exhibition to date.

Vebjørn’s next project is to paint World War II with his homeland of Norway as the backdrop with estimated completion to be in 2020.[30] The year 2020 commemorates the 80th anniversary of the invasion of Norway by the Nazis in 1940 as well as the 75th anniversary of the declaration of peace.

Controversy & Activism[edit]

While at University[edit]

In 1991 while studying at the Norwegian National Academy, Vebjørn drew a national stir when he criticised his art professors for being unable to draw a hand and pushing a purely “modernist” curriculum and agenda.[31]

Public Art in Norway[edit]

When a new cultural minister was set to takeover in Norway in 2013, Vebjørn indicated that he hoped for a “fresh and lively debate’ on how the public art funds should be used and even hinted at a total clean up. A longstanding critic of the Norwegian cultural authority, Vebjørn said of the art scene:

"Since the late 60's and the beginning of the 70's, the art politics has been dominated by the modernist and ‘lefties’. They have had the art political power in Norway so to speak. That means they controlled the «official/public art money- and art life» and that means the distribution of public money - the art. I’m thinking of stipendiums, official decorations, commissions etc."[32]

Greater Da Vinci Project and Fighting Climate Change[edit]

Building off the original Da Vinci bridge in Norway, Vebjørn used Leonardo's philosophy of encompassing all fields of research to use the project to discuss global warming. First he used ice to reinterpret and construct a new bridge during his expedition to Queen Maud Land in Antarctica. After that, in December of 2007, Vebjørn erected a temporary ice bridge to dramatize the melting glaciers of Antarctica due to climate change outside of the United Nations Plaza in New York.[33]During the unveiling at the U.N. Headquarters, Vebjørn said of the bridge in Antarctica,  

Our future lays underneath that ice glacier. So to erect it on that glacier, and that part of Antarctica, (it) must never melt. The one outside the United Nations is intended to melt to show that Antarctica is melting.

The bridge was unveiled earlier that year two days after nearly 200 nations agreed at the U.N.-led talks in Bali to launch negotiations on a new pact to fight global warming.

In 2009, Vebjørn built another ice bridge in Ilulissat, Greenland (where most icebergs are borne into the sea). Later that year in Copenhagen, as part of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP15, Vebjørn constructed yet another ice bridge in front of the Danish Parliament to raise global awareness of climate change.

Personal Life[edit]

Vebjørn grew up in Hvaler, Norway with his 4 siblings. He has a twin brother, Aune Sand, who is a public figure in Norway. Though Vebjørn keeps out of the public eye, he has appeared numerous times on national television. Vebjørn and Aune have both been contestants on Skal Vi Danse, the Norwegian adaptation of the British dancing show Strictly Come Dancing with Vebjørn appearing in Season 8. Vebjørn has also participated in a cooking program, 4 Star Dinner and most recently in 2018 on NRK’s Kunsten å leve.[34]

List of Public Projects[edit]

Leonardo Bridge Project, Château du clos lucé, 2016

The Ice Bridge, Leonardo Bridge Project, COP15, Copenhagen, 2009

The Ice Bridge, Leonardo Bridge Project, Greenland, 2009

The Ice Bridge, Leonardo Bridge Project, The United Nations, NYC 2007-2008

The Ice Bridge, Leonardo Bridge Project, Antarctica, 2006

The Norwegian Leonardo Project, Oslo, Norway, 2001

The Kepler Star (“Norwegian Peace Star”) Oslo, Norway, 2000

The Troll Castle (“Trollslottet”) Oslo, Norway 1997-98

List of Expeditions[edit]

Greenland, 2009

Queen Maud Land, Antarctica, 2006

Queen Maud Land, Antarctica, 1996

South Rondane, Antarctica, 1997


  1. ^ Sand Projects: The Kepler Star. Accessed 2008-02-22.
  2. ^ Ottersen i ramme
  3. ^ Signerte på hjemmebane
  4. ^ Tone B. Vaervågen, En Sand mann: Et mannsbilde i krise, er temaet i Sands utstilling "Å bli mann" (A Sand man: The male image in crisis, is the theme of the Sands exhibition "Becoming a man"), October 19, 2006. "It is because my Steiner school background." Accessed 2009-05-25.
  5. ^ "Norwegian Encyclopedia: Vebjørn Sand".
  6. ^ "Vebjørn Sand Early Life".
  7. ^ Galleri Würth
  8. ^ "Dagbladet article on Vebjørn Sand "- I had visual disturbances and chronic headaches for many years"".
  9. ^ "Video of Troll Castle "The Troll Castle Trollslottet Vebjørn Sand Frognerseteren Oslo Norway"".
  10. ^ "Introduction to the project and some notes about the first three months of the structure by Vebjørn Sand".
  11. ^ Fauchald, Ole Kristian (2015-01-01), "World Peace through World Trade? The Role of Dispute Settlement in the WTO", Promoting Peace Through International Law, Oxford University Press, pp. 191–208, ISBN 9780198722731, retrieved 2019-01-10
  12. ^ "That's why Keplerstjernen is pink".
  13. ^ "UTPB plans to build Da Vinci bridge".
  14. ^ "Spanning Past and Present".
  15. ^ "The Queen opened the Leonardo da Vinci bridge".
  16. ^ "TRAVEL ADVISORY; After 500 Years, Leonardo Gets His Bridge".
  17. ^ "Da Vinci comes to life 500 years on".
  18. ^ "Leonardo's Bridge".
  20. ^ "The Golden Horn Bridge" (PDF).
  21. ^ "A Sand man".
  22. ^ "To become a man".
  23. ^ "Sand has sold its most expensive painting ever".
  24. ^ "Two new million sales for Sand".
  25. ^ "War art meets resistance in Germany".
  26. ^ "Sand boasts of his ardent critic".
  27. ^ "Sand about new war art: - The best thing I've done".
  28. ^ "A Survivor Recalls the Horrors of Guernica".
  29. ^ "Guernica and the banality of evil".
  30. ^ "How to paint war images".
  31. ^ "Institutional criticism of Norwegian art education".
  32. ^ "- Art life needs a brainwash".
  33. ^ "U.N. ice bridge reminder of melting Antarctica".
  34. ^ "Kunsten å leve episode [Online Stream]".

External links[edit]