Picasso heirs may fight art removal

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Widespread public support for plans to preserve Norway’s bombed government high-rise has since given way to more conflict. Now some architects and heirs to the artwork adorning the damaged buildings in the government complex are causing new problems for Prime Minister Erna Solberg and all those hoping to prod the massive project along.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg and her fellow minister Jan Tore Sanner (left) were pleased that so many others were pleased that they'd decided to preserve the high-rise government  (towering behind them) that was among buildings damaged in the bombing of July 22, 2011. Now it appears not everyone is pleased after all. PHOTO: regjeringen.no

Prime Minister Erna Solberg and her fellow minister Jan Tore Sanner (left) were pleased that so many others were pleased when they decided to preserve the government high-rise (towering behind them) that was among buildings damaged in the bombing of July 22, 2011. Now it appears not everyone is pleased after all. PHOTO: regjeringen.no

Reaction was generally positive when Solberg announced plans last month for the long-awaited redevelopment of the government complex. Survivors of the lone terrorist’s bomb on July 22, 2011 also hailed the redevelopment plans, as did historic preservationists, Oslo city officials, former prime ministers and even opposition politicians.

In the weeks since, though, the plans to tear down the high-rise’s neighbouring building known as Y-blokken have run into criticism. Several architects view the two buildings as an inseparable part of the complex called Regjeringskvartalet (roughly pronounced “Ray-airings-kvar-tall-ett”). They don’t want to see the low-rise Y-blokken razed. “Preserving the high-rise is clearly the most important,” Kim Skaara, president of the Norwegian architects’ association NAL, told newspaper Aftenposten. “But NAL had hoped the solution would view the two buildings as one.” Hege Maria Eriksson of the Norwegian Design and Architecture Center called the plans to tear down Y-blokken “sad.”

This is the new bone of contention in redevelopment of the bombed government complex: Picasso's artwork known as Fiskerne, which adorns an outdoor wall of "Y-blokken." Another integrated work, created with Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar, adorns the building's vestibule. PHOTO: regjeringen.no/Helge Høifodt

This is the new bone of contention in redevelopment of the bombed government complex: Picasso’s artwork known as “Fiskerne,” which adorns an outdoor wall of “Y-blokken.” More of Picasso’s integrated art, created with Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar, adorns the building’s vestibule. PHOTO: regjeringen.no/Helge Høifodt

Now the heirs to the artwork by Pablo Picasso and Carl Nesjar that adorn both buildings are raising objections as well, and they intensified on Tuesday. “We don’t understand this and are very worried,” Claudia Andrieu of Administration Picasso in Paris, which manages the rights to Picasso’s art, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

Norwegian authorities have repeatedly stated that all artwork attached to the bombed buildings will be taken care of. The problem, though, is that it legally is considered as an integrated part of the buildings, and can’t be re-exhibited without the heirs’ permission.

‘Disappointed and indignant’
“The Norwegian authorities have never contacted us,” Andrieu told NRK. “They have neither called or in any other way tried to discuss this matter with Picasso’s family.” NRK described her as both “disappointed and indignant.” She said she had  “understood that the authorities don’t want to destroy the works of Picasso, but this not the way to move forward.” She thinks Picasso’s heirs should have been consulted before the government made its decision.

Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar, who worked with with Picasso on the ornamentation of Y-blokken back in the 1960s, is also upset. “I can’t understand how they can do this,” Nesjar, now age 93, told newspaper Aftenposten last week. “How can they decide that the building shall be torn down before saying what will come in its place?” Nesjar said he thinks Picasso himself would have asked the same question.

Nesjar’s wife, Silvia A Antoniou, told Aftenposten that state authorities have never contacted them either about plans for Y-blokken or its art. “Picasso was so happy that the Norwegian state gave the art to the people,” she told Aftenposten. “He was proud to be part of this major public work. How will they remove it, and where have they thought to put it? It was made for this building.”

Disagreement over the process
Picasso drew the two pieces of integrated art for Y-blokken, one called Fiskerne (The Fishermen) on the building’s outside wall facing the street Akersgata and one called Måken (The Seagull) in the vestibule, that Nesjar then sandblasted. The adjacent high-rise also contains art by Picasso, Nesjar and other Norwegian artists including Kai Fjell, Inger Sitter, Tore Haaland and Odd Tandberg.

Helga Kvandal of the government ministry in charge of the redevelopment project (Kommunal- og moderniseringsdepartementet), confirmed that state officials hadn’t yet contacted the artists or their heirs. “We want a good process to take care of the art in Y-blokken and the interests of those holding the rights to it,” Kvandal said. “There hasn’t been any dialogue since there was no political decision on preservation or razing. Now that a decision has been made, we will contact the artists and start a dialogue.” Kvandal and Andrieu of Administration Picasso clearly disagree on how and when the “process” of starting a dialogue should have begun.

Jørn Holme, head of Norway’s historic preservation agency Riksantikvaren, said he was “relieved and glad” that the high-rise will be preserved, and accepts that the low-rise Y-blokken will be razed to make room for more modern and spacious government offices. The most important thing now, he said, is to preserve the art of Picasso and Nesjar. “Everyone must be involved,” Holme told Aftenposten, “not least Picasso’s family but also the National Museum.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund