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The Y-block in Oslo. Photo: Wikipedia.
The Y-block in Oslo. Photo: Wikipedia.

MoMA Weighs in on Oslo’s Y-block, Picasso-Muraled Icon Fated for Demolition

Plans to demolish an empty government building in Oslo graced with a pair of Pablo Picasso–designed murals have caught the attention of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which has intervened in the controversy in an attempt to rescue the structure from the wrecking ball. The Art Newspaper reports that museum officials sent a letter to Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg enjoining her to “reconsider the approved decision for the demolition” of the office building, which is known as the “Y-block” and was damaged in a terrorist car-bomb attack in 2011. A MoMA spokesperson confirmed with Artforum that the letter was sent by chief curator of architecture and design Martino Stierli and chief curator of painting and sculpture Ann Temkin.

Realized in 1969 by Norwegian modernist architect Erling Viksjø, the concrete Y-block is widely considered a brutalist jewel of the Oslo cityscape. The Picasso murals—The Fisherman is sandblasted onto the facade, and The Seagull resides in the lobby—were executed by Carl Nesjar, Picasso’s frequent collaborator. An adjacent Viksjø building called the “H-block” contains a trio of small interior murals by Picasso and Nesjar. A proposal to raze the Y-block property first appeared in 2014 by politicians who argued that its maintenance was unsustainable, and in 2017, the government announced that it would redevelop the Regjeringskvartalet quarter—a cluster of government buildings in the heart of the capital—with designs by a group of prominent architecture firms.

The Norwegian government’s proposed demolition would spare and relocate the Picasso murals and restore the H-block, but it has still drawn ire from preservationists, architects, politicians, and heritage bodies such as the National Trust of Norway and Europa Nostra, which includes the murals on its list of the most endangered artworks in Europe.

“The building was fenced in ten days ago, and The Fishermen was covered up,” Gro Nesjar Greve, Nesjar’s daughter, told the Art Newspaper. “Workers at the site started drilling, but it’s worrying as once they start moving the mural, it will crack. Nobody has explained how they will do it. The art is the wall.” A petition to save the Y-block has collected nearly fifty thousand signatures.

The Norwegian newspaper VG claims that MoMA’s plea was addressed to Solberg and the minister for the environment, Sveinung Rotevatn. “We are writing to express our grave concern regarding the approved demolition of the Y-block governmental building,” the letter allegedly reads. “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.”