OSLO (NYT NEWS SERVICE).-
Since the 1970s, Oslos modest government quarter has been dominated by a huge work of art: The Fishermen, a concrete mural by Pablo Picasso and Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar that overlooks the districts central square.
The mural, on the wall of a government building known as Y-Block, has long been one of Norways most high-profile pieces of public art. That is, until now.
To the outrage of preservationists, art-world figures and Nesjars daughter, the Norwegian authorities removed the work early Thursday as part of plans to demolish Y-Block, which was damaged in a 2011 terrorist attack.
At noon Thursday, a crane placed The Fishermen onto two trucks which drove it away for storage. The buildings other Picasso mural, The Seagull, was removed from inside Tuesday. Both will eventually be incorporated into a building in a new government quarter planned for the site.
The murals removal was the culmination of a yearslong fight between the authorities, who argue the demolition is necessary for security reasons, and activists, who believe the decision represents a crime against Norwegian cultural heritage.
The fate of Picassos artworks has been in limbo since 2011, when right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik detonated a car bomb nearby, killing eight people and damaging the building. Breivik later killed another 69 people, mostly teenagers, on an island near Oslo. The attack remains a source of national trauma.
Despite protests against Y-Blocks planned demolition, the Norwegian authorities have insisted that a vehicle tunnel running underneath the building poses a security risk and that it is not safe for government business to take place inside.
In an email, Nikolai Astrup, Norways minister of local government and modernization, said that the murals would be prominently displayed in a new, more secure building.
Astrup said that the Picasso Administration, which oversees the artists estate, had given its approval to the project. (The Picasso Administration did not respond to emails seeking comment.) Considerations of safety, functionality, urban environment, conservation and costs were taken into account in an overall assessment, Astrup said.
But such reasoning hasnt done much to placate activists. Caroline Stovring, an Oslo architect and one of the leaders of the movement to preserve Y-Block, said in an interview that the government didnt sufficiently explore options for retaining the building, including leasing it out so that it no longer housed government offices, or closing the tunnel underneath it.
Several attempts to reverse the decision including a motion by an opposition party in Norways Parliament this June and a lawsuit filed last winter failed. This spring, protesters, including a former Oslo city planner, chained themselves to the building in protest.
The activists have received international support for their cause. In May, curators at the Museum of Modern Art in New York sent a letter to Prime Minister Erna Solberg arguing that the demolition would constitute a significant loss of Norwegian architectural heritage. The Picasso Museum in Antibes, France, has also written to Norwegian officials protesting the decision.
Nesjars daughter, Gro Nesjar Greve, has launched a lawsuit together with the grandson of Erling Viksjo, Y-Blocks architect, to stop the government from repurposing the murals in the new government quarter. She said that her father, who died in 2015, was distraught when he learned of the plans to relocate the mural. This was his main life achievement, and they are just taking it down, she said in a telephone interview.
A group of activists have launched a legal effort to pause the rest of the demolition until the heirs lawsuit is heard, probably early next year. The authorities think they can just relocate a work by Picasso and Nesjar, and that it will be the same thing, she said. Under the governments plans, The Fishermen will be installed above a VIP entrance to the new building, and The Seagull will be in the lobby.
She said that it was dispiriting that such a decision had been made in Norway, a country with a limited amount of high-profile public art. We dont have that many things to take care of, that makes it even sadder and stranger they are doing it.
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