Picasso – Oslo. Art and architecture in the government buildings

20 June 2013–6 October 2013

The National Museum – Architecture

Works of Pablo Picasso in Oslo, Norway, threatened by demolishment.

In Oslo city the government building ("H-blokka") is like an exclamation mark; a monument over the development of the welfare state of Norway after the Second World War. The high rise building is also a result of the breakthrough of modernism in official Norwegian architecture in the 1950s. The art decorations in natural concrete were novel, radical and sensational at its time, and the architecture and artwork are intimately and indivisibly connected.

It was the Norwegian architect Erling Viksjø who together with civil engineer Sverre Jystad introduced natural concrete as a new building material. The Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar was in charge of the artwork on the natural concrete walls of the new government building. In 1957 he invited Pablo Picasso to participate in the concrete art work, and the well known and admired artist said yes. Pablo Picasso was very intriguied by this new material, and he made 3 unique drawings for the building walls, which Carl Nesjar performed by sandblasting the concrete. Pablo Picasso was excited.

A fourth motive was made after the already known theme, Picasso’s Satyr, Faun and Centaur, now in The Museum of Picasso in Antibes. During the work process Carl Nesjar decided to leave out the Centaur figure. He had to meet with Picasso again to confess to his deed, but Picasso agreed with Nesjar that the wall and stone work was better off without the figure.

The cooperation between Carl Nesjar and Pablo Picasso developed and continued for 17 years until Picasso’s death in 1973. Their cooperation in the Governmental building in Oslo has been a prerequisite for Picasso’s official monumental art in the times to come. Apart from Oslo, we find Picasso’s monumental work in Barcelona, New York, Stockholm, Paris, and Jerusalem.

Technical investigations of “H-blokka” after the bombing in Oslo in July 22nd 2011 show that the building’s constructions are safe and the integrated art work is intact.  The symbolism in both architecture and art are not of less importance today than before the attack on the Norwegian state and political system.

The Government has decided that the Norwegian ministries are to be situated together in and around the present government quarter. "H-blokka" is now under the threat of being demolished, to give room for new, bigger and modern governmental buildings. Others claim "H-blokka" may be preserved and be part of a larger scale development in the area. The Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage are amongst them that strongly insist on its conservation.

The exhibition is a contribution to the current debate on government building future fate. It demonstrates the quarter's architecture, historical and artistic qualities, in international format, with emphasis on Pablo Picasso's works.

Curator: Karin Hellandsjø