Picassos may face wrecking ball in Oslo buildings

A man works inside the entrance hall of the bombed-out headquarters of Norway's government. The hall contains the works 'The Fishermen' and 'The Beach' by Pablo Picasso. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz
A man works inside the entrance hall of the bombed-out headquarters of Norway's government. The hall contains the works 'The Fishermen' and 'The Beach' by Pablo Picasso. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

Five Picasso designs etched into concrete may face the wrecking ball at government buildings in Oslo that anti-Islam militant Anders Breivik bombed in 2011.

Spread across two buildings, including the prime minister's 17-storey High Block office, the Picassos were etched in 1958. They are the first Picassos in concrete and four of them were especially designed for the site.

Norway is debating what to do with the damaged buildings after eight people were killed in the bombing, after which Breivik killed 69 more people, mostly teenagers, at the ruling Labour party's summer camp.

The new government, in office since October, is expected to consider the issue next spring and government officials insist no decision has been made.

"This is a highly emotional debate," Paal Weiby, a spokesman for government's property manager Statsbygg, said.

"A lot of people would be terrified to go back" to work at the building, he said. "But others say that this building is a symbol and if you tear it down, the terrorist wins."

The works, discoloured from years of cigarette smoke, were etched into the concrete by Picasso's friend, the Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar whose own works also decorate the buildings.

The Picassos include "The Beach", "The Seagull", "Satyr and Faun" and two versions of "The Fishermen". Most are about 3m (yards) wide but the outdoor version of the latter is 13m wide.

Breivik's bomb left a crater two stories deep, bent steel beams and shattered concrete, damaging the High Block so badly that a government-sponsored study recommended knocking it down, arguing that a new building would save 400 million crowns ($US65 million).

"Sure, but then you just finish Breivik's work," Oslo student Sofia Hagen, 19, said. "Imagine how happy that would make him."

Some of the artworks could be moved but critics say they do not belong elsewhere and not all of them could be saved.

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