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Norwegian officials approved the demolition of an Oslo building impacted by bomb damage, which features murals by Pablo Picasso, Agence France-Presse reported Thursday, February 26.
Y-Block, designed by modernist architect Erling Viksjø, was built in Oslo in 1969 and named for its shape, features five murals that Picasso designed in collaboration with Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar. The most famous is “The Fisherman,” which depicts three people on a boat, fishing against a backdrop of the sun. The BBC noted in 2013 that these works were “Picasso’s first attempts at concrete murals.”
For decades the murals were a beloved artistic feature of the Norwegian capital.
In 2011, they took on a new role: a symbol of hope and resilience after Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing terrorist, set off a car bomb that killed eight people and damaged Y-Block, and an adjacent building, H-Block.
Both buildings have sat mostly empty since the attacks. In 2014, officials from Norway’s Ministry of Local Government and Modernization first proposed demolishing Y-Block, citing security concerns, and the need to free up space for new government office buildings.
This angered preservationists, architects, and even politicians. At the time of the attacks, the New York Times pointed out in 2017, “authorities were in the process of designating both buildings as protected heritage monuments.”
The government, both in 2014 and now, has promised to preserve the Picasso murals, saying they will be reborn as a separate feature for the main entrance of the new buildings. Preservationists are unmoved; they believe the murals and the building belong as a set.
Opponents of the demolition, the Times explains, “[saw] it as an affront to Norwegian and global artistic heritage, and a capitulation to Mr. Breivik,” who was vehemently opposed to Norway’s tradition of social democracy and safety net. “We don’t want the ministry to tear down the building when the terrorist didn’t manage to do that,” Janne Wilberg, the city of Oslo’s director of cultural heritage, told the Times. A petition in favor of preserving the building has garnered nearly 28,000 signatures.
A heritage organization, Europa Nostra, put the murals on a shortlist of the continent’s most endangered artworks. The Picasso Administration, the organization in charge of the artist’s legacy, also opposed the decision.
The two sides have been locked in a protracted battle since 2013, with multiple demolition postponements. As AFP reports, the legal conflicts were still going as recently as February 13, when three organizations announced an intention to sue the state, and asked for the demolition’s postponement until a court ruling had come down. The government declined their request.
According to AFP, Statsbygg, Norway’s agency in charge of the country’s real estate assets, has been given the green light for demolition. However, no official start date has been set. H-block, which also has Picasso murals, will be spared.