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Picasso Murals Removed From Norwegian Building After Years-Long Debate (UPDATE)

What happens to a mural when its context is destroyed?

UPDATE (July 29, 2020): Norway’s government has begun tearing down the Y-Block building in Oslo, Norway that features giant murals by Pablo Picasso. The government building had been damaged in the 2011 terrorist attack by rightwing extremist Anders Breivik. In 2014, the government announced plans to relocate both of the concrete murals and demolish the building as part of a massive reconstruction project. Since then, the decision has sparked outrage from preservationists, activists and politicians. Even the Museum of Modern Art in New York joined the battle to save the murals, asking officials to “reconsider the approved decision for the demolition.”

Beginning on Monday, the Norwegian government started to deconstruct the landmark Y Building. The 250-ton sandblasted design on the facade called The Fishermen and the 60-ton piece called The Seagull in the lobby were stored on site while the structure was torn down. They will eventually be installed in the new modern facility, which is expected to be completed by 2025. Around five protesters demonstrated against the demolition in person on Tuesday, according to a representative of the Norwegian Directorate of Public Construction and Property.

Mari Hvattum, a professor of architectural history and theory at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, told Artnet News the demolition is “a massive mistake” and that “the relocation of Picasso’s artworks will do nothing to rectify this mistake.” Those who oppose the demolition of the building and removal of the site-specific works believe murals do not hold onto their same meanings if they are separated from their original environment. Those who support the demolition argue that it’s for the safety of the site, which is located directly on top of a traffic tunnel.


ORIGINAL STORY (May 13, 2020): Back in February, Norwegian government officials authorized the demolition of the Y-Block building located in the center of Oslo that features two murals by Pablo Picasso and Norwegian artist Carl Neja. Although the government promised to preserve the murals — most notably The Fisherman — activists and other politicians believe the building is just as important as the artworks, calling both “protected heritage monuments.” The Museum of Modern Art in New York has now joined the battle to save the murals, asking officials to “reconsider the approved decision for the demolition.”

According to the Norwegian newspaper VG, a letter was sent by MoMA officials to Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg, and the minister for the environment, Sveinung Rotevatn. The alleged letter published in the press states that “we are writing to express our grave concern regarding the approved demolition of the Y-block governmental building…the demolition of the building complex 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.”

Carl Neja’s daughter Gro Nesjar Greve explained that workers at the Y-Block building have begun drilling already, “but it’s worrying as once they start moving the mural, it will crack.” “Nobody has explained how they will do it,” she adds. “The art is the wall.”

A petition demanding the building to be preserved has collected over 47,000 signatures. “Tearing down a building with such exceptional architectonic, artistic, historical and symbolic value is wrong in so many ways…” says the petition. “If it is taken away, a part of the history will be lost that cannot be replaced or withdrawn.”

Stay tuned for further developments on this story.

In other art-related news, INTERPOL seized over 19,000 stolen archaeological artifacts as part of a global anti-trafficking operation.

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