Officials Remove Prized Picasso Murals Ahead of Controversial Demolition of Oslo Building

Tessa Solomon

BY TESSA SOLOMON

July 28, 2020 1:13pm

Art works Fishermen and Seagull by Pablo Picasso and Carl Nesjar are prepared to be removed from the Y-block in the government quarter in Oslo, Norway, Monday July 27, 2020, before the building is demolished. Spanish artist Pablo Picasso’s first attempt at monumental concrete murals were designed for the Regjeringskvartalet buildings in central Oslo, and the designs were executed in concrete by Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar. (Lise Aserud / NTB scanpix via AP)

Officials in Norway have removed two prized concrete murals by Pablo Picasso from a government building in Oslo slated for demolition. The controversial decision to tear down the 50-year-old complex has divided critics in the past few months, as some lauded Norwegian architect Erling Viksjoe’s structure as a masterpiece, while others called for a safer replacement free of painful associations. The building was damaged in July 2011 when a bomb planted by far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik detonated, killing eight people.

Picasso collaborated in the late 1960s with Norwegian sculptor Carl Nesjar to translate his designs into The Fishermen, a 250-ton sandblasted mural which decorated the building’s entire facade, and The Seagull, a 60-ton work installed in the lobby. Designs by Picasso were also sandblasted at the College of Architects of Catalonia’s building in Barcelona. The Fishermen will remain on display in the complex throughout construction while The Seagull will be placed in storage. Both murals will eventually be reinstalled in the new glass structure which is slated to finish construction in 2025. The total cost of the project is estimated at 59 million kroner ($6.4 million).

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“It is slow, and the whole move will take a long time,” Paal Weiby, a government official overseeing the project, told Norwegian news agency NTB. “Hopefully everything goes as planned.”

The building, deemed the Y-Block based on its appearance from the air, was formerly the home of Norway’s education ministry, but has been boarded up since the June 2011 terrorist attack by Breivik. Breivik also killed 69 individuals, many of whom were teenagers, in a mass shooting on Utoya island. The incident remains the deadliest atrocity committed in the country during peacetime.

Critics of the demolition have argued that destroying the Y-Block, viewed by many as symbolic of Norway’s democratic principles, completes Breivik’s mission. Others protested the separation of the site-specific artworks from the Y-Block. This spring, curators from the Museum of Modern Art in New York wrote a letter to Norwegian officials saying that the demolition “would not only constitute a significant loss of Norwegian architectural heritage, but it would also render any attempt to salvage or reposition Picasso’s site-specific murals elsewhere unfortunate.”

Proponents of the plan have argued that the building, which was constructed over a road tunnel, is vulnerable to further attacks, placing the murals and government employees at risk.

“I am glad we can take care of this art in this way,” Hege Njaa Aschim, communications director at the Norwegian Directorate of Public Construction and Property, said in a statement. “The 2011 bombing changed the world. We need to think about a new world now.”

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