Norway plan to save giant Picasso murals divides opinion

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway began tearing down a landmark building adorned with giant murals by Pablo Picasso on Monday as part of efforts to rebuild government headquarters after a deadly far-right bombing.

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Oslo’s ‘Y block’ office building, with a Picasso drawing sand-blasted onto a 250-tonne section of the facade, will be replaced by a modern, safer alternative, the government says.

The demolition has sharply divided opinion. Critics say the 50-year-old Brutalist concrete structure is ugly and deserves to be razed, while fans called for its protection.

Picasso collaborated with Norwegian sculptor Carl Nesjar, who turned designs by the Spanish artist into massive concrete works in New York, Barcelona, Oslo and other cities.

Using an entire outer wall of the Y building, Nesjar gave Picasso’s “The Fishermen” a prominent place in the Norwegian capital, and also blasted “Seagull”, a floor-to-ceiling drawing, onto a 60-tonne wall in the lobby.

The low-rise structure, built in 1969 and named after its shape as seen from the air, housed the education ministry until July 22, 2011, when anti-Islam militant Anders Behring Breivik detonated a large bomb nearby.

Both art works will be removed and preserved to be installed elsewhere, although campaigners say the building and the art belong together.

As workers detached the mural, one campaigner, Norwegian singer-songwriter Elvira Nikolaisen, told Reuters: “There is a grieving process that this is happening.”

But she added: “At the same time, the spirit that many displayed to campaign to protect the building has been very positive. People have woken up to the value of this art.”

The 2011 bombing, which killed eight people, and a later mass shooting that claimed a further 69, were Norway’s worst peacetime atrocity.

Several nearby buildings were damaged in the blast and have been torn down, while an office tower that also contains some of Picasso’s work will be restored.

The Y building, boarded up since 2011 but with little structural damage, could have been repaired, but the government said its location over a road tunnel exposed it to attack.

Editing by Giles Elgood