x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Large walls wanted

Art endures, but ugly office blocks do not, and that's the problem that's dividing people in Oslo, Norway.

They are large-scale public works, created by the man who is the leading light of 20th-century visual art. But they adorn the walls of derelict sections of ugly, unwanted city centre buildings.

This dilemma has divided the people of Norway: what to do about five ungainly abstract murals from images by Pablo Picasso. Sandblasted into concrete and affixed to prosaic official edifices in Oslo, the murals seemed likely to endure for decades, giving the buildings' bureaucrats a little cultural cachet.

But then came Anders Behring Breivik, who on July 22, 2011 set off a bomb outside the buildings, killing eight, and used the tumult as a distraction while he slaughtered 69 people at a rural youth camp. Breivik is locked away now, and the Picassos were not marred. But the main damaged building, with its doleful memories, is no longer wanted.

The obvious solution would be to carefully salvage the works and put them elsewhere. Picasso's heirs, who retain rights to the murals, seem willing to discuss such a plan, but art purists are baulking - the works were made for those buildings, they say, so everything must be saved.

This is the kind of thing that gives art purists a bad name. Every city needs culture, but no city can be mainly a museum. Life goes on.