COPENHAGEN – Several murals at the Oslo government building designed by Pablo Picasso are under threat of demolition.
The complex in the Norwegian capital was attacked on July 22, 2011 resulting in considerable damage to several buildings.
In 2014, the Norwegian Government decided to preserve the central building (Høyblokka), the most damaged by a bomb far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik set off.
However, Block Y is set to be demolished in October to pave the way for the construction of a new complex to be finished in 2025.
Both buildings contain five murals created by Picasso and Norwegian painter Carl Nesjar and made using a sandblasting technique.
The works are considered the first monumental artworks by the Spanish artist.
The pair devised five murals between the 1950s and 70s: The beach, The Seagull, Satyr and Faun and two versions of The Fisherman.
One of The Fisherman versions covers the facade of the Block Y, while The Seagull is on the entrance of the building.
“They are an example of integrated art,” Kristin Notø, from the Oslo Heritage office of communications, told EFE.
“Art is integrated into the city, it is a part of our culture.
“When art and architecture separate, they cease to be what they were,” Notø added.
Notø and her co-worker Maria Zachariassen organized a sitting last Thursday in front of the building, an initiative that they do as private citizens and that they intend to repeat every week.
As part of the protest demonstrators sport striped T-shirts inspired by Picasso.
The Henie Onstad art center has teamed up with the Conservation Support Group of Block Y and last week assembled a demonstration in the center of Oslo.
Heritage defense associations, colleges of architects, historians and organizations such as the Norwegian Commission for UNESCO, the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and Europa Nostra have urged authorities to reconsider the decision.
Among those who have supported the international campaign is the College of Architects of Catalonia (COAC), whose facade was decorated by Picasso and Nesjar following the same technique and style.
The Norwegian Government, however, remains firm in its decision to demolish the building, citing security issues.
It has refused to consider a building reform for technical and economic reasons.
“We believe that after the unfortunate events of 2011 there was a will to repair and comfort the nation and the necessary time to make a professional analysis of the case was not granted.
“The reaction was too quick and with concrete plans, politicians put themselves in an alley,” Notø added.
The double attack committed by Breivik, first in the complex and then the massacre at the Labor Youth camp on the island of Utøya in the Tyrifjorden lake, some 44 kilometers west of Oslo, resulted in 77 deaths and a national tragedy.
The government wanted to tear down the entire complex initially, but after strong criticism from organizations such as the National Heritage Office, five years ago announced the final project which saved the main building but not Block Y, although it was not affected by the attack.
The administrative process culminated last July when Oslo City Council gave the green light to the renovations but complaints by colleges of architects and heritage conservation groups that were presented in August were not considered.
The General Directorate of the Norwegian Directorate of Public Construction and Property (Statsbygg) said: “If Block Y were to be preserved, one would have either had to lower the security ambitions or build a new Government Building Complex in another location.
“Picasso’s art (The Fishermen and The Seagull) from Block Y will be preserved and integrated into the new Government Building Complex.”
Months before the attacks, Block Y had been put forward for the national heritage list, but that option was halted by the authorities after the terrorist attack, Statsbygg continued.
Norwegian cultural groups describe the demolition as a “tragedy” and as the largest “loss” for Norwegian culture since 1945.
They warned of the risk of damage to the murals and are very critical of the decision to store them for five years in closed boxes to be placed later within one of the new buildings of the complex.
Statsbygg has requested advice on the plan to move the murals from the heritage office, a measure that is not very common, Notø said.
“The real possibility of changing the decision is in the hands of politicians,” she continued.
“We have a government that has already rectified and changed its mind before,” she concluded.