Masks were rare and social distances varied, but the human chain spread out, as protestors in Oslo braved the risk of COVID-19 infection in a last-ditch bid to save a building adorned by Spanish master painter Pablo Picasso.
Damaged in right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik’s July 2011 attacks, the “Y Block,” a government building complex named for its shape and completed in 1969, is to be demolished soon.
On its grey cement walls are two Picasso drawings, sandblasted by Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar, who collaborated with the Spaniard.
On the facade facing the street, The Fishermen depicts three men hauling their oversized catch on board their boat. In the lobby, The Seagull shows the bird, its wings spread wide, devouring a fish.
Etched in the Spanish painter’s childlike strokes, the two works would be cut out and relocated to new government buildings due to be built in the central Oslo neighborhood.
However, not everyone likes that plan.
“We’re going to be kicking ourselves for years,” said Erik Lie, one of the about 200 Norwegians who came to protest the demolition.
“I hope it’s not too late,” he said.“But this will probably be a pile of rubble soon.”
Because of COVID-19, protesters were linked by meter-long ribbons in a bid to keep them at a safe distance from one another.
The Norwegian Directorate of Public Construction and Property, which oversees the demolition, said the murals are to be dismantled before the end of spring.
The nearby “H Block” building, built in the late 1950s and which has three other Picasso murals, was home to the prime minister’s offices until Breivik blew up a van loaded with 950kg of explosives at its base.
“H Block” would be renovated and continue to tower over the new ministry buildings.
“‘Y Block’ is an iconic building in Oslo that has survived a terrorist attack, and now the government wants to tear it down, and nobody can actually give a good argument for why they should,” said Tone Dalen, one of the protests’ figureheads.
The government said that the demolition to make space for new buildings was a difficult, but necessary decision.
“It will improve security and accessibility for cyclists and pedestrians, and will provide a more open and greener space, as well as offices suited to the future ministries,” Minister of Local Government Nikolai Astrup said.
“A lot of people think that it’s Picasso that deserves to be preserved, but it’s also the architecture and the interaction between ‘Y Block’ and ‘H Block,’ the history that it represents,” Lie said.
“These are monuments that illustrate the rebuilding of Norway after the war, and everything that I associate with the development of modern society,” he added.
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