Norway has become embroiled in a heated debate over proposals to demolish “ugly” government buildings damaged in Anders Behring Breivik’s bomb attack because they contain priceless Picasso murals.
The five murals – The Beach, The Seagull, Satyr and Faun and two versions of The Fisherman – were sandblasted on to the walls of the so-called H-block complex of buildings in central Oslo in the 1950s and 1960s.
But the austere complex was badly damaged in July 2011, when Breivik’s bomb killed eight people. He went on to massacre 69 Norwegian Labour Party members, most of whom were teenagers, attending a summer camp on the fjord island of Utoya.
The government is considering proposals to demolish the buildings, which several leading artists have described as ugly and “reminiscent” of Communist eastern Europe. “We now have a golden opportunity to get rid of them” argued the painter Dag Hol. Surveyors have said the cheapest way to deal with the buildings would be to demolish them. Under their proposals, the murals would be taken down brick by brick and reinstalled elsewhere.
Polls have suggested nearly 40 per cent of Norwegians are in favour of demolition compared with 34 per cent against. However, the plan faces stiff opposition from Norway’s directorate for cultural heritage which insists the buildings should be repaired and the Picassos kept on their original sites, whatever the cost. “We can’t demolish the best parts of a cultural era just because we find it ugly today,” insisted director Jorn Holme.
A lawyer for the Picasso family has insisted the works were specifically created for the buildings and cannot be “just taken down”. A final decision is expected early next year.