There are shows on Edvard Munch opening in September and November: one at the Berlinische Galerie and the other at the Barberini in Potsdam, both in collaboration with your museum. What accounts for the current fascination?
Love, life, death – the whole spectrum of emotions is embedded in his work. It’s very immediate and universal, and he was just such a good painter!
Berlin was instrumental to his career. Why was that?
Berlin is very much where he had his breakthrough. Where he found friends – the playwrights [August] Strindberg and [Henrik] Ibsen – and scandalised society with an exhibition so ahead of its time it was forced to close after a week.
Munch left his estate to the city of Oslo, not to Norway, which at the time was under the occupation of Nazis…
He was smart to donate to the city, where he had more control over how his work was going to be taken care of.
The Nazis considered his work degenerate, yet at the same time they liked how it exemplified a Germanic-Nordic connection…
That’s a complicated story. Hermann Göring actually took Munch’s painting Snow Shovelers for his own collection. But the Nazi regime made a lot of money for the war by selling off ‘degenerate’ art at auctions in Switzerland in 1939, with more sold through dealers and galleries.
The Berlinische Galerie has spent a staggering €1 million on this exhibition, most of it on a new state-of-the-art security system…
We have to see if the facilities meet our standards long before we say yes. The works are just so valuable.
Why was it decided that The Scream wouldn’t travel to this exhibition?
It is extremely fragile. Munch painted mostly on cardboard that’s deteriorating front and back. Also, we now have a new museum in Oslo, and if I didn’t have The Scream then visitors would be disappointed.
With so many requests to borrow Munch works, how do you choose?
There are many museums, and Munch has never been presented south of the Sahara. So we’re keen on approaching institutions instead of replying to ones who always want something from us – and not always requesting The Scream.
When did you first visit Berlin?
I first came in December 1989, just after the Wall had come down. Me and a friend crossed over at Checkpoint Charlie and ended up staying in a house occupied by anarchists. It was so cheap back then, we used to buy food and beer for everyone in the house. The city has changed a lot, but I’m always surprised to find places that are still not developed, old factories and abandoned buildings.
Which galleries do you visit when you’re here?
I’ve visited the Neue Nationalgalerie and of course the Pergamon Museum, as it’s about to close for  years for renovations. I find it fascinating to see how they dismantled these whole monuments and moved them to Berlin.