Picasso murals removed from Oslo building damaged by Breivik

Despite protests, the removal of two murals designed by Pablo Picasso began on Monday from an Oslo government building damaged in right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik's 2011 attack, a project manager said.

Picasso murals removed from Oslo building damaged by Breivik
The mural “The Fishermen” by Pablo Picasso and the Norwegian artist Carl Nesja is scaffolded at the Y-block in the government quarter in Oslo on July 27th. Photo: AFP

The “Y Block”, a government building complex named for its shape, is scheduled to be demolished due to damage from explosives that Breivik set before going on a shooting rampage, killing a combined 77 people.

On its grey cement walls are two drawings by Picasso that were sandblasted by Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar, who collaborated with the Spanish master painter.

On the facade facing the street, “The Fishermen” depicts three men hauling their oversized catch onto their boat. In the lobby, “The Seagull” shows the bird, its wings spread wide, devouring a fish.


On Monday, the works, weighing 250 and 60 tonnes respectively, were enclosed in massive metal supports to be transported away and stored nearby, according to Statsbygg, the public agency in charge of overseeing the demolition.

“The operation is very slow” and should be completed by Thursday or Friday, site manager Pal Weiby told AFP.

The plan is to integrate the works into a new government building scheduled for completion in 2025.

Opponents of the project, both in Norway and abroad, have been mobilising in recent years to save the building, calling for it to be renovated and preserved as has been planned for its neighbour, “Block H”.

“Block H” was home to the prime minister's offices until Breivik blew up a van loaded with 950 kilogrammes (2,100 pounds) of explosives at its base, before he went on to carry out a mass shooting on the island of Utoya.

In addition to hoping to preserve an architectural work typical of the 1960s, opponents of the destruction invoke a symbolic argument: that the government buildings should remain standing even though the right-wing extremist tried to tear them down.

READ ALSO: New York's MoMA calls for Norway to save Picasso building

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New York’s MoMA calls for Norway to save Picasso building

New York's Museum of Modern Art has thrown its considerable cultural weight behind the campaign to rescue Oslo's brutalist Y-block building and its two gigantic sandblasted murals by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso.

New York's MoMA calls for Norway to save Picasso building
The Y-block building as it looked in 2005 before the bombing by Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik. Photo: J. P. Fagerback/Wikimedia Commons
Martino Stierli, chief curator of architecture and design at the museum, and Ann Temkin, chief curator of painting and sculpture, co-signed a letter to Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg expressing their “grave concern” at the building's impending destruction. 
The letter asked for her government to “reconsider the approved decision for the demolition”. 
The building, they explained, was “a significant example of European brutalist architecture,” designed by the noted Norwegian architect Erling Viksjö, while the murals had marked a new stage in Picasso's career. 
“Picasso's murals for the Y-block in many ways signal the beginning of the artist's celebrated works of monumental sculpture that can be found in cities like Chicago and New York,” they wrote. 
“As such, the ensemble is a prime example of the notion of a post-war 'synthesis of the arts',” they continued, adding that its removal would mark “a significant loss of Norwegian architectural heritage”. 
Gro Nesjar Greve, the daughter of Carl Nesjar, the Norwegian painter who executed the murals, told the Art Newspaper that the building had been hidden from view since the start of this month. 
“The building was fenced in ten days ago, and The Fishermen [one of the murals] was covered up. Workers at the site started drilling, but it’s worrying as once they start moving the mural, it will crack. Nobody has explained how they will do it. The art is the wall.” 
Norway's government announced its plan to demolish the Y-block in 2014, three years after it was abandoned after sustaining damage in Anders Breivik's twin terror attack.  
A majority of Norway's political parties backed the decision two years later, with plans drawn up to remove the murals and incorporate them into the facade of a new government building. 
Norway's Directorate for Cultural Heritage has consistently argued that the Y-block and its neighbouring H-block should be preserved, as has the National Association of Architects. A petition to save the building, started a year, has received nearly 50,000 signatures.