PLNTY 1-2020 - PLNTY | kulturmagasinet

PLNTY 1-2020

Welcome to PLNTY 1 2020 spesial issue. The magazine is featuring the architect Erling Viksjø and artists Carl Nesjar and Picasso, who’s stories built the historical Norwegian Y-block building. The Norwegian Government has decided and will go through with demolishing the building, summer 2020, despite all legal attempts to try to prevail. The building structure was never damaged.
Not all images are published online due to copyright, please follow pages in the printed issue.
Front page image: France, ca 1952: Pablo Picasso in Vallauris. Photo: Robert DOISNEAU / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images. Actual image left out / dimmed due to copyright issues. Inserted for navigational purposes.

 

 

Contributors, (inside flap page):

Contributors
Annicken Dedekam Råge (editor/publisher), Jan Walaker (co editor/design), Torgrim Eggen (text), Dorthe Smeby (text), Marte Østmoe (text), Tommy Olsson (text), Sindre Goksøyr (illustration), Mats Linder (text)
Special thanks to

Fredrik Høyer (Spoken Word poet), Gro Nesjar Greve, Anja Koren, Kai Viksjø, Mari Viksjø, Tone Viksjø and Tonje Viksjø. The book «Carl Nesjar» / Haugar Vestfold Art Museum / Labyrinth Press has been an important source.

Photo (inside flap page + middle):

Jan Walaker (stone wall)
The photo shows “natural concrete”, the material Erling Viksjø used as building mass to soften the naked look of brutalism. By collecting river stones and pushing them into the concrete mass, he invented a method that he patented with his collaborator engineer Sverre Jystad in 1955.

Photo, right page:

Carl Nesjar (image of himself and Picasso), self portrait
Self portrait by Carl Nesjar of himself and Picasso. Image dimmed due to copyright issues. Inserted for navigational purposes.

Photo (left page): The Y-block building

Teigens fotoatelier / DEXTRA Foto
Photo: Teigens Fotoatelier / Dextra Photo.

Demolish the shit

Bang! April 7th, 2020. The mallet has struck the table. The district court has made itself clear. A historic decision with permanent repercussions is made: «Go ahead, demolish the damn thing».

Agnes Moxnes, a culture oracle of Norwegian state media, barked like a menacing pitbull in defence of the Y-block in July 2019, just after Oslo’s city planning office was left no choice but to approve of the demolition. She writes a devastating op-ed, nearly snarling as she warns we will suffer a lasting, heart-wrenching loss, should we choose to demolish the Y-block. A gnawing pain over immeasurable loss begins, and bears witness to this day.

April 7th. Two state news media journalists summarize effectively. The court has spoken. The newspaper Aftenposten. Hard facts, just as newspapers should deliver them. Preliminary injunction denied. Besides that, no news of the Y-block on this day. The conspiracy theorist thirsts, looking for any clue of overreaching power undermining the democratic process. Where did this all go so awry? The defense, a well renowned lawyer and member of the Nobel Committee, is disappointed. The echo chamber writhes in pain. «An utter tragedy», «Shameful», «Bad culture by the hand of the government». On a day like this, only one actor triumphs. Statsbygg, the Norwegian Directorate of Public Construction and Property, whips its tail gleefully at the result; «As expected». Bang! April 7th. The pulse runs high from a speed date with the iron will of prime minister Erna.

On this day and on all days prior, we accept self-criticism. No one wanted to march the streets for the Y-block. Not really. No one wanted to sacrifice that much. Some joined a torchlight procession. More people protested wolves in front of parliament. Cultural heritage? Is that so pressing? Let’s go to a soccer game and have some burgers. Norwegian tepidness, Norwegian obedience, Norwegian meekness, Norwegian fear. What government fears the raised fist of the cultural elite, whoever that is?

On April 7th, we aren’t sure chains will be put to use and people arrested – some of the more dedicated supporters will truly get their hands dirty, right? The entire nation’s cultural elite battles from behind their keyboards. Some weeks ahead, more than 50 000 have signed the viral petition to save the Y-block. Good. Incredible, even. Though not quite the same as showing up on the streets to voice your opinion. Merely 6000 would have done the trick. The buck stops with corona rules and regulations. And if this wasn’t already an uphill battle: Facebook groups total 40 000 members, yet the fact that Picasso himself adorned the Y-block remains known to almost no one. Even fewer know of the culturally historic architect Erling Viksjø. The artist Carl Nesjar is known to some. Internationally acclaimed. Though not really a world class celebrity in Norway. Picasso needs no introduction. Or does he?

In the government quarters in Akers street, Oslo, the three came together to make the magic that became the Y-block, a perfected version of Høyblokka, a highrise government building – even better! They left their mark on world history when the building was completed in 1969. And 33 of Picasso’s art projects became a world famous consequence that followed this partnership. Think for a moment of what Oslo could have gained from having the Picasso mural in its original integrated form. «The Fishermen» – a gift to the Norwegian people, as he saw us before our oil riches. The buildings, unharmed in their construction after that terrorist set off a bomb, were meant to be protected. No one doubted it. It has also been proven that they were meant to last 2000 years. A terrorist cannot destroy what doesn’t want to be destroyed.

Throughout the world, international organizations spearheaded by the UNESCO World Heritage List, gasp in disbelief. In 2020, the Y-block is among the seven buildings most worthy of protection in Europe. In the future palace of prime minister Erna, bureaucrats will be housed in the most costly buildings ever in Norway. The timing of the coronavirus, untimely for everyone. But the pandemic shows that future threats will differ from what we previously thought. The security risk question, the win-all argument for the government, is challenged. And the world economy won’t ever return to what it was. «Don’t waste the money of future generations on glass houses. It’s never too late to turn back!» The demolition opposition speak clear as day.

Norway talks on and on about ever more progressive climate goals. Yet it’s not able to take the modern approach in a time where re-usage in architecture is a widely preferred climate goal, and far from a conspiracy theory. Think of the place-specific art we could have given generations to come, created by three heroic men of the art world – a unique part of Norwegian modern art history. No. We tear the art off of the building – one hundred tons – like vandals, and call it reasonable. Simply place it on a another building. The art is spared!

By the end of April 7th, 2020, one thing is certain. Erling Viksjø, Carl Nesjar and Pablo Picasso have all turned in their graves. 2000 years went by like lightning. And during TV news primetime, not even a slight echo is heard of Agnes Moxnes’ cutting words of heart-wrenching loss. It’s bizarrely quiet. As a poor form of comfort, the state TV channel shows people dressing up as art pieces, with motives by Gaugin, Vermeer or Munch. They post pictures to Instagram. No one dressed up as «The Seagull» or «The Fishermen», or wore no shirt, like Picasso used to. The conspiracy theorist wonders whether editorial rooms were gagged.

Today, some might say Norway is reduced to a pitiful place in the artworld at large. The international papers write their stories. Politely worded, yet disparaging nonetheless. Our politicians’ knowledge is poor as it relates to how art is interleaved into human life – just as art is in architecture and the Y-block, with perfect Norwegian Nature Concrete and its naturally rounded river stones from our country’s rivers. In 2019, the Y-block turned 50 years old. Carl Nesjar has his 100th birthday in 2020. In two days from this day, 80 years will have passed since the Germans invaded Norway. Erling Viksjø was at the Grini internment camp during the war. Here he engages people with art. Now the magnum opus is being demolished.

The supermoon on April 7th remains as the only thing shining. Agnes Moxnes, the all-knowing culture oracle, is silent. Are her final words spoken? Bang! The sound of a mallet striking a table. No way to save the building now. An impermanent prime minister trumps everyone. A most heavy heart-sickness has begun growing in everyone who fought for the Y-block to be a Norwegian symbol of piece for all days to come. And also for everyone still unaware that there is a Picasso piece adorning a wall of the Y-block, in Akers street in Oslo. Or to be clear: there was a Picasso piece there.

Text by Annicken Dedekam Råge

 

Photo (left page): Erling Viksjø sitting outside his cabin in Larvik, Norway

Photo: ©The National Museum
Erling Viksjø outside his cabin in Larvik, Norway. Photo: The National Museum.

Erling Viksjø

Groundbreaking and innovative, with an enormous passion for art, functional architecture and his native country. Architect Erling Viksjø is considered one of the foremost architects of Norwegian modernism and mirrored the zeitgeist with an entirely new aesthetic and perception of form. 

Standing behind several monumental constructions in the span of his 36-year long career, Erling Viksjø (1910–1971) was particularly instrumental in shaping Norwegian architecture in the post-war era. As one of the most frequently employed architects in the 50’s and 60’s, he is especially well known for his office building designs – and the government quarter in Oslo that was erected between 1958–1969 in particular. His distinct and innovative architectural style became indicative of the zeitgeist incorporating optimism about the future, and both the H Block and the Y Block buildings are counted among late-modern influential works of international renown.

Erling Viksjø was born in Trondheim, Norway, and was among the first group of students at NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) to receive modernist inspired architectural training. He moved to Oslo after completing his studies in 1935, where he was engaged fresh out of university by architect Ove Bang. Bang’s architectural firm was known for its radical architectural-political thinking, and Bang himself is often referred to as one of the foremost representatives of functionalism and modern architecture in Norway.

The Origins of Functionalist Architecture

Functionalism as architectural style originates and flourishes in the period 1920–1940, with the intention of creating architecture for the common man and woman. Form must follow function, with constructions stripped of any decorative elements and superfluous architectural detail. In Scandinavia, functionalism first sees the light of day through groundbreaking creatives, such as Arne Korsmo, Gudolf Blakstad, Lars Backer and Ove Bang, who, through simplification and dedication to shapes, geometry, straight lines and expansive surfaces, represent an entirely new approach to architecture. Swiss architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, better known under the pseudonym Le Corbusier, draws the Pavillon Suisse in Paris in 1931, an event upheld by many today as the official kick-off of modernism in Europe. Erling Viksjø is clearly inspired by Le Corbusier’s way of thinking about shape and form, ideas that he comes to incorporate into his works in his own unique way.  

In 1939, a year marred by unrest and tumults in Europe, an architectural competition is announced. Oslo is in need of a new government quarter, and both Ove Bang’s architectural firm and Erling Viksjø as an individual contestant enter submissions. Viksjø’s proposal is given the name “Vestibyle” and is a free-standing high-rise building that spans 12 floors. The project is named after the Norwegian word for the representative and spacious entrance hall of the building, which is to distinguish both the ground floor and the first floor. Both Viksjø’s and Bang’s submissions make it through the first stage as two of a total of four projects, but the upcoming world war causes the competition to be put on hold for the unforeseeable future.

In the years to come, Erling Viksjø takes over Ove Bang’s architectural firm after the latter’s death in 1942. It turns out to be an uphill battle. In April 1944, Viksjø is incarcerated at Grini prison camp. He is held there until the war ends. However, while incarcerated, he also gets the opportunity to delve deeply into his creative abilities, and he engages other prisoners with his interest for and dedication to the arts.

Groundbreaking Height

The construction of high-rise buildings is both unusual and groundbreaking in this era. But, having just suffered through a world war, Norway is to be reconstructed. And with peace comes fresh inspiration. The ultra-modern, almost futuristic, construction that is the H Block building (Høyblokka in Norwegian) induces both wonder and curiosity in the onlooker. Erling Viksjø’s proposal for a new government quarter is pulled from the archives, and “Vestibyle” wins the competition after seven years of lying dormant. The year is 1946.

This building is his first substantial official engagement, and it is meant to function as a gathering place for the people’s representatives after the war. The H Block building of the government quarter is erected between 1955 and 1958, and the finished 12-floor building represents something entirely new and fresh in Norway. Viksjø is strongly influenced by the spirit, ideals and shape perception of functionalism. Like any innovator, he encounters both resistance and skepticism.

Natural concrete covers the faces of both the H Block and the Y Block. The technique was patented by Erling Viksjø and civil engineer Sverre Jystad in 1955. The pair experimented with new ways of using concrete, and they developed a method for casting the material. This allowed them to bring out movement and structure in the surface.

The casting method involves the addition of round cut gravel collected from riverbeds, which is brought to the surface through sand blasting after the hardening process is complete. The characters of sand blasted and untreated concrete surfaces contrast each other distinctly, depending on the degree of sand blasting.

Natural concrete is used as a surface medium for the first time ever in the construction of the government quarter, and it is used to cover every visible surface as well as for artistic expression in the gables, the entrance hall and on the walls in the stairwells of the Y Block building. The invention will turn out to become Viksjø’s trademark, and it is later applied to several of his buildings, among them Norsk Hydro in Bygdøy Allé (1960–63), Østre Aker vei 33 (1968) in Oslo and Bergen City Hall (1971–74).

Facing a Different Time – Art as Integral to Architecture

Natural concrete was not only meant to achieve a visually appealing exterior, it was also used with the purpose of functioning as a canvas. As a champion of contemporary art, Viksjø wanted to integrate art into architecture, and for his government quarter project, he thus invites radical artists he feels will suit his concept.

The Y Block building was part of the original plan Erling Viksjø had for a new government quarter, but it was not completed until 1969. The low building of five floors connects the H Block building to the ground and stands as a balancing act in contrast to the tall and slim construction. The building is named after the Y-shape that reveals itself when the block is viewed from above. The shape created itself as a solution to an architectural problem; Viksjø was unhappy about the, according to him, disharmonious placement of the former Deichmanske library and the Trinity Church side by side. He came up with the Y-shape in order to create two separate squares in front of each of the respective buildings.

Carl Nesjar is sent to hire Pablo Picasso on assignment from Erling Viksjø. He travels to The French Riviera, with instructions to show Picasso a sample of the natural concrete. This was no simple task to ask of Nesjar, who was a great admirer of the renowned world artist. Upon a coincidental encounter with a middleman, Nesjar is given audience. Picasso is equally delighted and fascinated by the new material and accepts the commission.

The art works “The Beach” and “Satyr, Faun and Centaur” are featured on the H Block building. The imagery was based on one of his previous works. Picasso’s drawings are transferred from sketch to wall by Nesjar himself, who executes the physical part of the job with the help of a projector. “The Beach” was placed on the south wall of the eighth floor of The H Block, and Satyr, Faun and Centaur was placed on the same wall, but on the eleventh floor.

The new Y Block is to become one of the most important public decoration commissions of the 50’s and 60’s, and the job is assigned to Carl Nesjar. Picasso contributes to the project with the two motifs “The Seagull” and “The Fishermen”, which can be found in the entrance hall and on the wall facing Akersgata. Nesjar sand blasts Picasso’s motifs into the natural concrete with great accuracy.

The decorative works of the government quarter meant something special to Picasso, and he considered his creations being integrated into Norways new government quarter a great honour. His choice of maritime motifs reflects his thoughts about Norway as a country, with nature, fiords, fish and maritime activity as focal points.

“The Fishermen” is a clear reference to the people, in the sense that Picasso interpreted us as a coastal nation before the discovery of oil. The frieze placed on the statement wall of the Y Block, facing the street Akersgata, speaks directly to people in the streets below, and Picasso was humbled by the fact that it was placed in such an exposed location.

The H Block and Y Block buildings still stand tall as symbols of Norway as a nation, reflecting Erling Viksjø’s own interpretation; innovative, solid and adaptable, with artistic detail that mirrors the Norwegian spirit.

Text by Dorthe Smeby

 

Photo (double page) Erling Viksjø’s cabin:

Photo: Jan Walaker
The Viksjø cabin by the Larvik fjord, Larvik, Norway. Photo: Jan Walaker.

Carl Nesjar discovered and picket the spot for Erling Viksjø just between Gonslandet and Rekkeviksbukta by the Larvik fjord.

 

Photo (double page) The Y-block building, seen from below – Arne Garborgs plass.

Photy Teigens Fotoatelier / DEXTRA Photo
Arne Garborgs plass, 1969. Photo: Teigens Fotoatelier / Dextra Photo.

Erling Viksjø’s buildings was equal to great handcrafted work and an architects quality in art and composition. He sourrounded himself with bold men, from entrepreneurs to advisers and collaborators. The composition of the Government Quarter was based on the UN building in New York; One high and monumental building and one on lower levelled, artistic in language. Later on, in 1973, artist Arne Lindaas won an arts competition to decorate the Arne Garborgs plass in Oslo. The wall painting, called “Garden of Eden” with black drawings on a white wall was made here. In 2008, the municipal of Oslo removed it, due to lack of maintenance.

 

Photo (double page) The H-block building, reception area

Photo: Teigens Fotoatelier / DEXTRA Photo
Reception, H-block building, Oslo, Government Quarter. Photo Teigens Fotoatelier / Dextra Photo.

In the reception area and other places on the first (ground) floor, in the H-block building in the Government Quarter in Oslo, designer Kjell Richardsen’s chairs were used. They matched the character of the building greatly. Curtains by Sigrun Berg. Colums are covered by architect Erling Viksjø’s own decor. The art on the wall is signed Inger Sitter and Carl Nesjar, who were married at the time it was made. Sitter sand blew large parts of the art herself before becoming pregnant and leaving the rest of the work to her husband.

Photo (double page)

OIL PAINTING BY ARCHITECT ERLING VIKSJØ
Motif painted of family and summer relaxation, by architect Erling Viksjø, most probably in the period of 1946-1950. No tilte.

 

Movements in Concrete
– Erling Viksjø and the artists

To talk about movements in concrete is in itself controversial. There is almost no material existing, that represents less elasticity. Either way, The National Museum, in the exhibition «Movements in concrete», has added flexibility to explain that art and the concept of art has the power to move the static brut material in magical ways – due to Erling Viksjø’s ability to create harmony. 

– Viksjø may be the architect we know that worked mostly with and closest to the artists, who pulls them into the architectural work and rising of buildings. And who uses art as a way of making architecture more organic, or even more human and alive. He dosen’t use art as decor or as an outer element, it integrate itself in the actual thought of architecture, says curator Øystein Ustvedt at The National Museum.

 

 

Photo (right page) Jakob Weidemann’s art integrated in the wall in the reception area, the building designed for Norsk Hydro, built in 1960.

Photo by Jan Walaker
Architect Erling Viksjø invited the progressive and modernist artist Jakob Weidemann to make art integrated in the building made for Norsk Hydro in 1960.

The Hydro building with interior art by Jakob Wiedeman was one of many artists to collaborate with Erling Viksjø. Jakob Weidemann and Odd Tandberg were both involved in the embellishments of the Hydro Building at Bygdøy Allé 2 and the Hydro Park. The mural artworks found in the reception area and on the exterior walls flanking the main entrance were all executed by Jakob Weidemann. The paintings on sand blasted gravel concrete in and outside the Hydro Building in Bygdøy allé are all done with an adhesive-based paint that was developed by conservator Jan Thurmann-Moe and Weidemann in collaboration. The exterior embellishment is no longer what it once was. This hearkens back to the fact that these were artistic explorations, thus the result was impossible to predict. Weather and time have worn the external adornment down, and Weidemann attempted to refresh it in the 90’s – but the attempt yielded unsatisfactory results. The mural on the inside of the building, however, has stood the test of time and is just as moving to this day.

 

Photo (left page) Carl Nesjar sandblasting a Picasso sculpture (self portrait)
Photo by Carl Nesjar, dimmed due to copyright issues. Inserted for navigational purposes.

Concrete, Simply

Throughout building history, concrete remains a strong and compact, yet boring material, hiding just beneath the exterior of houses. Still, in the post-war time, it piques the interest of curious architects and designers, making itself iconic among innovators of the time.

Concrete is quite popular during this period, even though the material has been made and used since ancient times. Roman concrete was made from burnt lime stone, volcanic ash and broken tile, and was used in constructions such as swimming pools and pipes.
Concrete is a mixture of cement, water and gravel, giving it a naturally bland color and a rather boring, unvarnished appearance. It has long been used as a structural element of a building rather than a decorative one. But with new times come new trends. Concrete becomes popular as it is now seen as an independent material by architects and builders alike; it’s cheap, effective and strong. Not to mention malleable. Concrete can be used for nearly anything.

In the mid-1800s, the Frenchman Joseph Monier invents reinforced concrete. The reinforcement process is often done by adding circularly bent steel rods into the concrete mixture before it is dried, making the finished product more bendable and stretchable. Optimized methods of reinforcing concrete are developed in the 1900s and the material gains wide traction.

The strength of concrete comes from cement and water being mixed with sand and stone based materials. The ingredients react chemically with one another and the mixture hardens. When this process is allowed to happen slowly, concrete reaches an astounding strength and is therefore a trustworthy material.
Mortar bears semblance to concrete, but the two materials differ. Mortar is used for masonry and consists of cement, water and sand, with cement being the active binding agent in both materials.

In the early 50s, Norwegian architect Erling Viksjø and engineer Sverre Jystad patent what they call Nature Concrete. They invent a method of molding and adapting concrete which makes for unique surface adornments for building façades.
The molding method for Nature Concrete requires that an empty concrete mold is filled with different types of gravel. Viksjø’s method uses smoothed river gravel, making the concrete something much more than an unvarnished building structure.

River gravel is pushed into an empty concrete mold until every crevice is filled. The art of the process is to have no oxygen left in the mixture. Once the concrete has dried long enough, the mold can be removed. In the next phase, the Nature Concrete must be sandblasted, as to make the gravel visible on the outside of the building façade.

The 50s and modernism have their grip on architecture. Reinforced concrete is dominant for a short period as an independent building material, and is also scorned for its appearance. It can therefore be debated whether Viksjø and Jystad’s Nature Concrete really is «brut», as in dry or raw, like brutalism is. Erling Viksjø’s inclusion of nature, art and tradition into concrete can be viewed as a form of refinement, in which he creates a unique and poetic form of modernism.

 

Photo (left page): Picasso sketch of Carl Nesjar

Carl Nesjar

“Everywhere around us we see the svabergs, the smooth slopes of granite rock marking the border between land and water, worn down and polished by glaciers into abstract sculptural shapes, and we experience the changes in the seasons and the light on the water, the play of light and sound surrounding the svabergs, all the amazing things the water does.”

Water. The year is 1961, and Carl Nesjar is inspired to create fountains while he is working on the massive Picasso-friezes in Barcelona. The Mooric influence visible everywhere in Spain has a profound effect on him.

He becomes obsessed with what he perceives as the Moors’ almost religious approach to water – that inescapable source of life – and he traces their history back to 4000 BC. Water is a personal and important element to Carl Nesjar as well. That is something he has brought with him from his childhood days by the coast of Larvik where he drew svabergs and potholes – shapes he is to carry through an entire artist’s career. You can spot it in the structures of his fountains, but you will also recognise it in his graphic works as well as in his art photography.

“Ever since childhood I have been fascinated by water dripping or splashing down onto rocks and trees and transforming into interesting and beautiful formations of ice during winter.”

This quote tells us something about how we can approach Nesjar’s all-year fountains. The investigations into this part of his creative practice commence in 1962. He is now studying rivers and waterfalls intently to observe how they transform during the winter. The interest for the impermanency of ice and water drives him. He collects an enormous amount of material, documented with photos and notes that he also exhibits at Larvik Kunstforening in 1970.

He cannot not think of fountains. And he is motivated when he discovers that the fountains bring different types of emotions out in people, from awe and shock to joy or comfort. “So then one day it dawned on me that it must be possible to create fountains that would work not only in summer, but through the winter as well. When I started to design water and ice fountains, I was struck by the fact that we have a lot of fountains in our cities up north. But in the darkness of winter, when we truly feel the need for light and beauty, that is when the fountain is shut off and covered up. (…) The fountains praise and celebrate the winter in all its glory. We talk of celebrating summer, but we can celebrate winter, too.”

For it is when winter makes its entrance you truly see it. When the cold takes the director’s seat, water flows over the sculpture and continues to do so, ice forms and icicles create a magical play of complex ice structures with light glinting and bouncing off of them. Enormous icicles, something most Norwegians recognise from their childhood, represent the transparent and liminal phenomenon of nature in solid form. Licking them, looking through them, dispersing light like a prism, melting, or, like we often remember them in Norway: dangling perilously from the gables of houses in spring, or coming with a strict warning to keep your distance in the cities. They can take lives.

Running water, like ice, is one of the guiding principles of Nesjar’s universe, and comes from a place deep in his Norwegian mind. “Just like in Barcelona, the water, not the sculpture, was to be the most important part of the fountain. I can make fountains all year round and in any kind of weather.” This was how the all-year fountain was born. “The thought that constantly occurred to me was that the weather would affect the fountain through every single second of the day, summer and winter, and it would undergo changes pertaining to weather conditions, temperature and the surrounding light. It was exactly like the svabergs along the coast.”

Educated at Pratt Institute in New York, Oslo National Academy of the Arts and the Art Academy in Oslo, he is a man of huge capacity, juggling several projects simultaneously, and he creates art of many different genres. Graphic works, photography and film projects are exhibited. He makes his debut at Norway’s National Art Exhibition, Høstutstillingen, in 1949, and travels to Paris, where he attends classes led by Stanley William and Jeans Pons. His international standing gives him contacts, and his role is also to act as connector between important people and events in the art world. Institute of Contemporary Art in London. Museum of Modern Art, Riverside Museum and Nordheim Gallery in New York. Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Dokumenta in Kassel. The World Exhibition in Brussels. Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in København, Vondelpark, Amsterdam, Henie Onstad Art Center in Bærum, Norway, Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo, The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo. All-year fountains in Flaine and Albertville, France, Lake Placid, USA, Seoul, Korea, Vikingskipet in Hamar, Norway. The list of places Carl Nesjar has made his mark on is extensive.

“If not for Kai Fjell, I would never have been involved in the decoration of the new government quarter. Kai Fjell was Erling Viksjø’s close friend, and it was Kai Fjell who recommended me and later introduced me to Erling Viksjø.”

“Original art, cheaper than reproductions”, was the battle cry of the subsidised, social democratic national organisation Aktuell Kunst, established 1953. The divide between the art, the institutions and the people of Norway would be evened out, and the organisation, run by Norwegian labour party Arbeiderpartiet, was to make sure that art was sold to party members at low prices. Prior to meeting Erling Viksjø, Nesjar meets with the board of Aktuell Kunst in 1956 and informs them of the network he has built in Paris through Jeans Pons, and that the artists there wish to contribute. But the board of Aktuell Kunst only wants Picasso. To Nesjar, this is pure insanity. Picasso has never been up for discussion, and, to make matters worse, it is nearly impossible to get in contact with the internationally renowned artist. He removes himself from the project and returns to France.

It ends up being government engaged architect Erling Viksjø, who, upon meeting Carl Nesjar late in the very same year, sends the artist out on his life’s most important mission – to travel to Cannes in the south of France and get in touch with Pablo Picasso. Viksjø is aware of Nesjar’s history with Aktuell Kunst and their lithograph request. The H Block building is being cast in the formworks and Viksjø wants to invite Picasso to come play.

“New materials bring fresh possibilities and new challenges, and engaging with them is exciting.” Protective goggles and sand blasting equipment. That is how we know Carl Nesjar from photos posted in connection with the debate that has been blazing in later years regarding the tearing down or conservation of the Y Block building. Photos posted by conservationists on Facebook and exhibits at Henie Onstad Art Center, and Nesjar photographed while working on the Picasso-frieze and government quarter in Oslo that was completed in 1969.

Carl Nesjar travelled to Cannes with Erling Viksjø’s and Aktuell Kunst’s covetous ideas in his suitcase, knocked repeatedly on Picasso’s closed door and has all but given up on the entire project when his close friend Erik Hesselberg, known for participating in the Kon-Tiki expedition, invites him to a party. Hesselberg’s boat is docked at Golfe Juan. Here, Eugene Fidler appears, a young artist who also happens to be a friend of Pablo Picasso. He is shown the concrete samples and is immediately convinced. This is something Picasso has to see.

They pop over to the closest pub and give him a call. Nesjar is granted an audience, and curiously enough the Aktuell Kunst-request is also accepted, even before he has been able to produce the material.

Little does Carl Nesjar know that Picasso will turn out to be extremely impressed by the natural concrete, and that this will come to result in a 17-year collaboration, the decoration of the Y Block building and 33 statues cast in natural concrete across the world. The collaboration and friendship with Picasso last until Picasso’s death in 1973. New York Times journalist Margalit Fox put it like this: “Carl Nesjar was often called Picasso’s right arm, but in truth he was also his left arm and, Picasso being Picasso, very likely a third arm as well.”

Text by Annicken Dedekam Råge
Sketch by Picasso, “Pour Carl Nesjar”©Succession Picasso/BONO 2020. Dimmed due to copyright. Inserted for navigation purposes.

Carl Nesjar and Pablo Picasso remained friends and colleagues for 17 years after the completion of the collaboration on the Y Block building in the government quarter in Oslo. Picasso produced this sketch in the same year and dedicated it to Carl Nesjar on November 18, 1969. Ink on paper, 36 x 27,5 cm. Sold at the price of 400 000 kroner at Christie’s, “Oeuvres Modernes sur papier, incluant des oeuvres de la collection Jean Bonna”, March 28, 2019. (Pour Carl Nesjar © Succession Picasso / BONO 2020)

Black and white photo of Carl Nesjar, Inger Sitter, Arne Nordheim, Mark Aleo, Sossen and Guy Krogh in Cadaques, Spain.

Photo by Carl Nesjar, dimmed due to copyright issues. Inserted for navigalting purposes.

Inger Sitter and Carl Nesjar enter into matrimony in 1955. They become inspired by the so-called School of Paris and its furthering of modern art and explorations into the abstract. They gather impulses from progressive Spanish and American modernist art as well. They are constantly on the look-out for expressions of their contemporary – or even the future. They were and were known as avant-gardists. Nesjar also enjoys networking – and gains a reputation for his many collaborations with other artists.

     The Artists’ collective Terningen (The Die) is established in 1965. Members include Gunnar S. Gundersen, Jakob Weidemann, Inger Sitter and Carl Nesjar. This group of people made themselves known through their explorations into abstract painting, and having the strength of numbers was practical when it came to staging exhibitions. Several artists were attached in some way to this group. But Nesjar’s ability to connect with people is in many ways unique, and he and Inger Sitter strike up a close friendship with, among others, the American singer Anne Brown – and form a lifelong relation to composer Antonio Bibalo. They assist Bibalo by contributing to the staging of Henry Miller’s short story “The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder” as an opera, with Miller’s blessing. 

     But Carl Nesjar gets along with other people as well. He enjoys working with people on the technical side of the arts. This kind of collaboration is also something that is becoming increasingly common in the post-war period. New technologies and the utilisation of new materials are signs of the times. This is also reflected in art, architecture and design. Here, Nesjar takes charge. It is important to remember that he is on a scholarship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1972–73. And he is to return here. He cares about the workers he hires to assist him with the construction of both the Picasso statues and the all-year fountains, and he maintains his relationships with them. He builds friendships that span many years with engineers, plumbers, carpenters, brick layers, architects etc. He is loyal to his Norwegian coworkers, and he insists on using the same workers for his many projects. 

Carl Nesjar also helps many a young artist get their careers up and going, he guides them and he stages exhibitions alongside them. Working with children was important to him as well, and he was fascinated by the art they made. Like Picasso, Nesjar claims that “all children are artists”. In 1977, he staged the exhibition “Lines in Stone: Carl Nesjar and the Pupils at Frøy School” (“Linjer i stein: Carl Nesjar og elevene på Frøy skole”) at Bøkeskogen Cultural Centre, in collaboration with Larvik Art Association (Larvik kunstforening).

    Carl Nesjar was introduced to Erling Viksjø through the artist Kai Fjeld – and Carl Nesjar and Inger Sitter collaborated on the artworks for the H Block.

Text by Annicken Dedekam Råge

Left and right page, Carl Nesjar and the water fountains

Water always meant a lot to Carl Nesjar, who grew up i Larvik by the sea with culps and svaberg everywhere. His art reflects exactly that. But it was in 1961, in Barcelona while working on the Picasso frizes, that the fountain as a unique piece of art really started to get his attention. Photo: Carl Nesjar. Photo by Carl Nesjar, dimmed due to copyright issues. Inserted for navigation purposes.

The connection to water, nature, to technology and science is what becomes visible in Carl Nesjar’s all-year fountains as they sprinkle water the whole year around, especially in winter. The foundation for this idea emerges while he is working on the Picasso friezes in Barcelona. He discovers, after deep studies of the ancient Moorish fountains, that water is the most important element in the fountain, not the fountain itself or the sculpture that decorates it. Nesjar never stops indulging in the beauty of the movement of water. And he is caught by the significance for the Moors and their almost religious connection to water as an inevitable grounds of life.
Furthermore, he is curious about how water acts and moves, and especially when it freezes and turns to ice. In 1961, he stars to study rivers in Norway more thoroughly, to learn.
     The passion that includes the art, also includes technology. He is a son of an engineer, and had, according to his father, strong abilities in this direction. Nesjar’s father wished that his son wasn’t as interested in art as he was, but rather saw in another direction; towards taking an education as en engineer, like himself. It would give him a good and stable income, and he did what he could to distract his son from the path of the art. But it didn’t work. Carl wants to pursue the arts and he does. But later on in life, when Nesjar gets the idea of making all-year fountains, the manifestation of his interest in working with engineers and scientists happens. It really attracts him. And likewise, he attracts them with his groundbreaking ideas. More that anything, Nesjar’s all-year fountains is what made his name internationally known.
     In 1972-73, he is invited to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). A meeting had already taken place in 1969, with the leader of the university at the time, Jerome B. Weisner. This meeting leads to his invitation – and happens because Nesjar is an acquaintance of the world known architect I.M. Pei. He himself is educated at MIT – and this meeting is the reason Nesjar will return to the university to study technology. It is Nesjar’s extremely social abilities to connect with other people that leads to mr. Weisner wanting to buy a sculpture from Picasso for the university. But he also becomes deeply interested in Nesjar’s own art and projects. When Nesjar reveals his all-year-fountains, mr Gregory Kepes is immediately invited. Kepes is head of MIT’s prestigious science center, CAVS. They have a lot to talk about and find it interesting to discuss the science that Nesjar brings in disguise of his art.
     years later Nesjar receives the very special invitation to come and study in Massachusetts, to experiment and teach at CAVS. In 1974 he laves, but his relationship with the environment and the university stays on, and he keeps holding lectures there until 1981.
     NTH (Norwegian university of Technology) was fused into NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) in 1996 and has been an important place to develop the science and knowledge about water and its behaviour in the all-year fountains. How could water run through pipes and valves that wouldn’t freeze in a below zero environment? What about materials? What could be used? Nesjar had to work hard to convince and overcome skepticism with possible sponsors. He was determined for it to work.
     So, his all-year-fountains are mainly developed in Trondheim where he worked with – and tested steel and aluminum – from 1969.
     The sculpture “The Globe” was a result of his work here, until it was placed in storage in his home town Larvik, while the municipal was discussing its final placement. They kept it there for three years before the they finally decided to buy it. Should the town now get its Nesjar as it had declined its option to receive a Picasso sculpture as a gift? Three years in storage became ten. “The Globe” had to go through severe maintenance and restorations before it was finally unveiled in Larvik in 1992.

Text by Annicken Dedekam Råge
Nesjar’s sculptural fountains is developed at NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) in Trondheim because of the complexed systems of pipes and valves – combines with the choice of materials that could be used outside all-year around in Norway. This scupture, Kloden / The Globe, is unveiled in Larvik, March 12th 1992. The town finally gets its «Nesjar» sculpture. Photo: Carl Nesjar. Image dimmed due to copyright issues. Inserted for navigational purposes.
Carl Nesjar and Arne Nordheim create this neon installation for the Realfagbygg at NTNU University in Trondheim, 1999–2000. Light and sound installations merge and create a fascinating expression of completion. Photo by Carl Nesjar, dimmed due to copyright issues. Inserted for navigation purposes.

The collaboration with Arne Nordheim is starts in Paris in the 50’s. Nordheim is studying in Paris as well, and he spends a lot of time here in the company of Nesjar and Sitter. The first commission the composer ever receives comes due to his close friend, Carl Nesjar. Up until this point in time, he has created two art documentaries, one dealing with the subject of graphics, and the other lithography. The latter is the more famous of the two, and this is the film he wants Nordheim to compose the score for. The two creatives also collaborate to grand effect on the neon installation at the Realfagbygg at NTNU – The Norwegian University for Science and Technology in Trondheim. 

     Nesjar might be less known for his ventures into art photography – but he is curios and has a thirst for knowledge, and photography is an important aspect of his artistic explorations. And, according to Nesjar himself, not just as documentation of the works in progress. Thus, he exhibits photos as well as his other works. Carl Nesjar thrives when he can play around with different genres and styles. 

     Technology is an important aspect of Nesjar’s art. He worked with scientists at NTH (currently NTNU) as he explored the winter fountains. In this space, technology truly comes into its own, and thus it remains standing in the centre of the installation the two artists Nesjar and Nordheim are working on together. Nesjar works with neon lighting, and Nordheim works with sound installations. This amplifies the relationship between the two men, in the sense that the works work individually, but perhaps even better together. Those fortunate enough to have seen the installation before it was dismantled, say it presented a fascinating interplay of light and sound.  

     Arne Nordheim is born in Larvik, just like Nesjar, and he receives international recognition. The ballet The Storm – composed in collaboration with American choreographer Glen Tetley – is to become his most renowned work internationally. It became hugely popular. The ballet has been staged on numerous occasions both nationally and around the world after its premiere at the festival in Schwetzingen, 1979.

     Nordheims first four main works are Canzona (1960), Epitaffio (1963–1977), Eco for Vocals, Choir, Children’s Choir, and Orchestra (1968) and Floating (1970). But the list of compositions is long and they are all related through a marked timbre. This trait follows him through his entire career. 

     This impulse is fortified in the 60’s, after a stay in Warsaw at Studio Eksperymentalne. In the time to come, experiments with electronic devices would become Arne Nordheim’s trademark.

Text by Annicken Dedekam Råge

 

Bang !!! Picasso at Gunpoint

A Fictional Interview by Jan Walaker

What is truly true? One thing that is definitely not true, is that I have interviewed Picasso. This has neither taken place through a medium or prior to his death as a 91-year old man on April 8, 1973. I am an artist, and for that reason I have taken the liberty of creating a fictional interview with one of the greatest artists of history. The answers are based on his own statements and texts. Perhaps is it an interview he would have appreciated? In all its childishness, it resonates with his famous words: – It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.

Name?
Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso.

When and where were you born?
In Málaga, Spain, October 25, 1881.

What did your parents do?
My father was a painter and taught drawing. He taught me so much and I was accepted into art school at 14. It has been said that I painted better than the graduates when I started.

Were you of an affluent family?
Nope, we were poor. Things got particularly hard after my two siblings were born. In 1850 my father was offered a position as professor of the arts at the Art Academy in Barcelona.

Barcelona was where you discovered modernism?
I would often go to a cafe called Els Quatre Gats. Here, I got to know collectors who represented the Spanish modernism. Carles Casagemas became a close friend. We left for Paris together in 1900.

Your blue period started in 1909?
Casagemas committed suicide because of a love affair after only a year in paris. That affected me deeply. For the next three years I would only paint with blues, depicting poverty, hopelessness and despair.

What about the rose period, from 1905–06?
Yes, I started painting with pinks, yellows and greys. Mainly jesters and circus artists of different kinds. The artist and model Fernande Olivier was the inspiration behind the exploration.

You founded a publication?
Yes, Arte Joven. For the first five months of 1901, I lived in Madrid.
That’s where I started the magazine with my friend Francisco de Asis Soler. Francisco wrote and I provided drawings. The first edition was published March 31, 1901.

Cubism?
In 1906, I started to depict objects as seen simultaneously from two perspectives. The main work from this period is The Young Ladies of Avignon (Les Demoiselles d’Avignon) from 1907. It represents the birth of cubism. The first consistently cubistic paintings were produced the following year.

What about ceramics?
It all started in 1946. I was an established artist and on the lookout for new forms of expression. Ceramics caught my eye. During a visit to an arts and crafts conference in 1946, I discovered some pieces displayed at the Madura workshop. The couple who ran the workshop invited me over. They ended up taking me on a spectacular journey into the possibilities clay has to offer. The result was a series of pieces that the workshop was granted permission to produce as a limited series.

Are you a communist?
I signed up for the French Communist Party in 1944. I was long kept under surveillance in France and registered in the archives as an anarchist and a communist. This probably explains why I was never granted French citizenship.

What about your relationship to Norway?
I was involved in an extensive collaboration with Carl Nesjar throughout the 50’s and 60’s. We met on January 20, 1957, in my villa, Villa La Californie, in Cannes. Nesjar showed me photographs of his concrete experiments in the government quarter, and my interest was piqued. I contributed with motifs for several of the concrete walls. Nesjar took care of the sand blasting. I also agreed to do a lithograph for Aktuell Kunst. “Woman’s head” was printed in three colours, numbered and signed in 250 ex.

What about Norwegian acquisitions?
In 1921, Bergen Billedgalleri, now Bergen Museum of Art, purchased a small work for their collection, Nature Morte. Guernica could have been bought by the National Museum of Oslo in 1938. Walther Halvorsen, former Paris correspondent for Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang, staged an exhibition at Kunstnernes Hus featuring works by Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Henri Laurens and myself. I contributed 32 paintings; one of these was Guernica. On January 20, 1938, parts of the Committee of Acquisitions at the National Gallery convened at the address Universitetsgata 10 in order to discuss possible acquisitions from the exhibition. The Sculptor Group (Billedhuggergruppen) agreed to purchase a statuette by Laurens. But The Painter Group did not convene, and thus they missed the opportunity to acquire what is counted as my masterpiece.

What inspires you?
Bull fighting, African art and women. I was of course also strongly influenced by whatever went on around me. Family, the deaths of friends. The sight of poverty; war and politics.

You have said: To paint is to destroy!
Yes, deconstruction is an important part of the work I do.

Many artists spend their entire careers perfecting just one style of painting?
That is not for me. The imagination and the application of materials is interesting. Painting, collage, design, ceramics, drawing, sculpture and concrete. Creativity! Love to create.

Any advice for up-and-coming artists?
Go for it! Paint, draw, whatever … Carve out your own way life! The world is full of “truths”. Make up your own!

Text and artwork by Jan Walaker
Picasso. Artwork by Jan Walaker.

Porn?

Sex, and nothing else? Picasso’s 1968 “347 Series” has always been known for getting a rise out of people; the discourse surrounding it is still both contrasting and opinionated. Some say the series sexualises art. That it is mere porn, that Picasso was a misogynist pig.   

Others say, on the contrary, it expresses the sensual. Either way, it is well beyond doubt that the series awakens a string of erotic connotations. The answer to the question might just as well dwell in the mind of the beholder.

It is hard to imagine an event more astonishing than the world-renowned Picasso serving up the myth on a silver platter; the myth of the famous artist and his wine and his muses; the myth of orgies galore and a lifestyle mundane individuals such as ourselves would never come to take part in. Or does his movement into the landscape of eroticism at the tender age of 87 represent a peak, an inspired almost-graphic-novel depicting and unpacking an entire lifetime filled to the brim with eroticism and sexuality? 

Astonishing, indeed. And, even more astonishing is the fact that the collection “347 Series” was acquired by Norwegian financier and art collector Arild Wahlstrøm, a name unknown to most at the time. In order to keep the collection in one complete piece, he donated it in its entirety to the National Museum in 1982. Wahlstrøm was of the opinion that it was crucial for the series to stay in Norway; The complete, extensive collection can only be found at five or six museums across the globe. The National Museum in Norway is under obligation to exhibit parts of it regularly.   

Another astonishing chapter to this story, is the fact that Picasso completed the series in what seems like the blink of an eye compared to the amount of prints produced. He worked non-stop from March 16 to October 8, 1968 – a mere seven months – in what many art historians describe as a kind of ferocious fit of ecstacy, or even of creative rage. Tongue-in-cheek historians might even refer to it as a state of continuous arousal. Be it rage or excitement, what is clear is that something was insisting on being let out into the world. 

Society is as society tends to be; somewhat unprepared. And the “347 Series” did not only come as a surprise, it came as a shock! One might suspect that Picasso, ever the trouble-maker, nonchalantly, even impulsively, set it free on an unsuspecting audience and art world. One thing is for certain – he went straight for the jugular. Nothing comes between the visual expression and the beholder. We are metaphorically invited to join Picasso in bed, and the first impression must have been terrifying for a lot of people; it is still talked of with a certain shyness to this day. It has been said that when the series was first exhibited in 1968, the collection triggered such strong emotion that it became a crescendo of a conversation topic. A conversation that would reverb for generations to come.

The “347 Series” was censored as a result of the unleashed arousal that was deemed downright pornographic by many. Pornography is at times forbidden, at times exciting, not to forget immoral, and perhaps not the most flattering of themes to discuss in exclusive art environments. Is porn too simple? Does it leave any room for imagination? Does it only engage in conversations of raw lust?

It is perhaps banal to think that sex sells; however, it does. But is not that too simple an answer as well? That an artist like Picasso would create and sell pornographic art merely in order to capitalise on it is hard to imagine. It seems a far-fetched thought. However, a naked truth could be that Picasso’s expression in this particular case was so extreme that he had to attract and provoke the collected moralists of the world – a feat he still manages to achieve through his art today. The artist himself found the moralist rage amusing. Perhaps he even found it gratifying. He was, after all, known for having an unafraid approach to sexuality; joie de vivre and beautiful women were featured elements of his art. And it has been said that Picasso created the 347 prints with a tongue-in-cheek sense of irony. 

But we must not forget to look beyond the obvious. For therein lies the art of it all. And this series gives room for so many interpretations. One might also imagine that the “347 Series” was created at exactly the right point in time. The hippie movement was well underway, and in 1969, half a million people gathered on a field in Woodstock, Bethel, New York, to listen to experimental music. Here, nothing was taboo and everything was to be experimented with; sexual constraints were among the many bonds to be broken. 

In that regard, Picasso was right on time. He could have imagined that, because sexuality was, and still is, a taboo to such a ridiculous extent, there might be a possibility at hand. An opportunity to dose the entire world with a hefty injection of it. A bit like saying: get over it. We have to move on. And in such, could there be an implicit message that humanity must take responsibility for itself, that society must be more flexible? Particularly if we think it is too much now, as we are reintroduced to the series in 2020. Is all we see, porn? In other words, the series breaks restraints and pushes limits even today.

Like a Virgil in an Inferno of love-making, Picasso takes his onlookers by the hand and guides us through his childish and playful expressions of art as he draws himself into his imagery. You can see him as an old man with a cane, surrounded by voluptuous women. In this, he also touches on a universal theme that is rarely talked about: the faltering sexuality of the elderly man. When the reproductive abilities wither, the mental urges stay. Is there a trail of grief to be pursued here, hidden in these festive and pornographic musings? Or is this taboo what is talked of as “old man’s knowledge” in other circles? Many questions arise, but few answers present themselves. Picasso wants us to think for ourselves.  

And for all the women who lash out at the presence of naked women a-plenty: Is it merely the male urges and gaze, dirty and crude and lustful, that define the erotic couplings of life; that make porn porn? Where does the female come into this, into this life? Is the woman ever the victim, the violated party, whether she ends up as the ditched mistress or the cheated wife? Can she, or will she, ever recognise the thing that enthralls her, and, perhaps more importantly, acknowledge it? Within this graphic series, all sides of the matter are illuminated by the artist.

Trouble-maker Picasso invites us to peek inside his playful, cheeky, challenging and covetous mind. The failures are there as well. The great artist had the audacity to invite some of his historical artist colleagues, such as Velasquez and Goya, to join him in his depictions. In this way, he brings the historical perspective into play. Was the life of the artist truly the joyful party sphere it was often portrayed as? Was life as an artist necessarily successful? If you give the “347 Series” a chance, you might find some answers. 

Sparking massive headlines after the opening in 1968 and running parallel to Jimi Hendrix’ outrageous electric guitar licks at Woodstock, the world finally received its scandalous “347 Series”. Now, it had to face it. 

It is often stated that “it may get worse before it gets better”. The “347 Series” still gets censored to this day, but not on this occasion. That is why it is an international sensation that it is being exhibited in its entirety in 2020 – and for the second time ever in Norway. The last time the entire series was shown was in 1981, also at Henie Onstad Art Centre. The exhibition “Picasso 347” will be staged both there and at KODE Art Museum in Bergen during 2020.

Text by Annicken Dedekam Råge
Pablo Picasso 24.3.69. Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design. Succession Picasso /Bono 2020. Image dimmed due to copyright issues. Inserted for navigational purposes only.

When Norway told Carl Nesjar no, first time, second time…

The Norwegian city of Larvik has three honorary citizens. They are all men. One of them is artist Carl Nesjar. While his art is being demolished in Oslo, Larvik turns a blind eye. 

– Carl Nesjar is one of our honorary citizens and because of that we should support his art being taken care of in the best way possible. These words were spoken by Rune Høiseth in November 2019. The Deputy Mayor of Larvik did not shy away from action when it came to the preservation of the Y Block in Oslo.

     – The municipality can in this particular case support the petition on Facebook and share it to their own websites as well as encourage other culture focused municipalities to do the same, he said, and added that it should also be possible to take the matter to national media.

     Mayor Erik Bringedal stayed mum. When he finally made a statement four months later, it reeked of apathy. – I truly enjoy the art by Nesjar and Picasso that embellishes the building, he admitted, but added that he was under the impression that the art would be preserved even if the block building was to be demolished. The mayor of Larvik, then, would like to spare the art, but not the building.

    – The Y Block in itself is something I feel more neutral about. I do not feel the need to put in an effort to keep the Y Block in place as a building.

     Deputy Mayor Rune Høiseth, on the other hand, recognised the efforts to preserve the Y Block as an opportunity to, as he said: – clarify the connections between Larvik, Nesjar, Picasso and architect Erling Viksjø. He also thought that this could all contribute to the establishing of Larvik as a place of significance in Norwegian art and culture history.

     The case would also help strengthen Larvik’s reputation as one of the top three municipalities for culture in Norway. Through his statements, the Mayor emphasised that these were his personal opinions, and not those of Larvik municipality. Yet, Deputy Mayor Høiseth dared to take a different angle; he saw the case of the Y Block as a reflection of another, older stain on Larviks’s reputation. 

     In 1971, in connection with Larvik’s 300th anniversary, the town was gifted a 14 metres tall sculpture designed by Pablo Picasso. According to the plan, the concrete sculpture called Sylvette would be constructed by Carl Nesjar.  

     The citizens of Larvik, however, turned the generous present down. The sculpture was never constructed.

     For 30 years, the Sylvette project laid dormant. But then it was brought back to life in connection with the wedding of Norway’s most affluent woman, Mille Marie Treschow, and Carl-Erik Hagen. The couple wanted the sculpture to be unveiled on the day of their wedding, June 12, 2014.

     Finally, the sculpture would find its place under the sun. Literally. One of the reasons why Larvik’s citizens had turned the statue down was because the general opinion was that it would be far too prominent for its planned placement at the popular destination Tollerodden, right next to the water entrance to the city’s prominent port. Now, the newlyweds decided Sylvette would instead be placed next to their recently acquired spa hotel, which was coincidentally right by the city’s popular swimming spot, Batteristranden. 

     However, it turned out that Picasso’s family was by this point quite fed up with the entire matter. Carl Nesjar said to the Norwegian national broadcasting service that he no longer could or would contribute. Up until two years ago, the main structure of it might have be spotted, stored behind the Larvik Museum of Art. Today, it is … Gone? Rumour has it that a very similar sculpture was erected in the Swedish village Kristinehamn.

    Linnéa Palmquist at the town’s tourist centre tells us that it is, however, not the lady from Larvik. The two sculptures come from the same series, she explains. Kristinehamns Picasso is a portrait of the artists wife, Jacqueline.

     The anniversary gift to the city of Larvik, on the other hand, was said to depict Picasso’s famous muse*, nicknamed Sylvette. The tender age of this young woman might offer an explanation as to why the sculpture was never erected.

     In 1954, when Picasso was working on the sketches and Frenchwoman Sylvette David modelled for him, she was only 19 years old. Simple math tells us that there was a 54-year age gap between the two. Ridiculous? Immoral?

     Regardless, the citizens of Larvik concluded that Picasso was far too much of a ladies’ man. Looking back today, many cringe at the mere thought of the embarrassing rejection of the generous gift.

     A firm declaration of support for the preservation of the Y Block in the government quarter in Oslo could, then, have been a kind of atonement. A way to say sorry. – Showing our support in this matter could contribute to building a kind of bridge between the artists’ circles and Larvik municipality, as this relationship has been strained ever since the conflict surrounding Sylvette, Rune Høiseth expressed. 

     Mayor in Larvik in 2020, Bringedal, has resided in the former government quarter himself. However, he is not on board with the Deputy Mayor’s views on the matter. The Mayor feels that we definitely need a memorial for the 22nd July tragedy, but he does not see the Y Block as a natural symbol in that respect.

     Likewise, the Mayor sees no correlation between the city he governs, Larvik, honorary citizen Nesjar, and Nesjar’s art, that is currently being demolished in Oslo. When it comes to the need for a memorial, Bringedal has no specific suggestions, and states: – We will have to find a different solution if the Y block is torn down.

In 1978, Nesjar was the recipient of the Government Grant for Artists (Statens Garantiinntekt for kunstnere). He lived and worked in New York, Holland, Sweden, Spain and France, where he was also knighted and admitted into the Order of Arts and Letters (Ordre des Arts et des lettres). 

     In his home town, Larvik, he is made honorary citizen in 2001. Ten years later he is appointed commander of St. Olav’s Order for his significant artistic feats. Four years later, he dies in Rome, at 95 years of age and leaving behind a series of artworks and pieces found today in Barcelona, Marseille, Stockholm and Chicago – but to name a few. “Sylvette”, the collaborative piece dreamed up by Nesjar and Picasso, never made it to Larvik. Instead, the city can boast of its 27 poems, hewn into rock and carved into glass.

     Larvik is known as the capitol of poetry in Norway, and it has five complementary honorary citizens. They each have their own wall. One is ethnographer, zoologist and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl, another is contemporary composer and critic Arne Nordheim, the third is pianist and composer Antonio Bibalo and the fourth is author Ingvar Ambjørnsen. Carl Nesjar is represented with a colourful mural painting, facing main street Kongegata. That is it. Larvik is as Larvik will always be. When art created by their honorary citizen is being demolished in the capitol, it is none of their business.

Text by Marte Østmoe
Sylvette proposal Larvik, collage by Carl Nesjar. The sculpture “Sylvette” was, together with I. M. Peis’ “Silver Tower Complex”, appointed to an official landmark in New York, 2008. Image dimmed due to copyright issues. Inserted for navigational purposes only.

Caption Sylvette collage:

Controversial. Monumental. Totem-like. Solid. Powerful. Beautiful. 33 sculptures is the result of the collaboration between Picasso and Carl Nesjar. The worldwide collaboration continued up until Picasso’s death in 1973. The 14 metres tall sculpture “Sylvette” was to be cast in natural concrete and then sand blasted.

     The drawing of “Sylvette” comes from Picasso’s collaboration with Frenchwoman Sylvette David (later Lydia Corbett) in the spring of 1954. She modelled for him for about two months in the tiny village of Vallauris – situated between Cannes and Nice – where Picasso lived and worked. Allegedly, Sylvette, or the girl with the ponytail, was to become an inspiration for Brigitte bardot, and she quickly became a fashion it-girl in the post war era.

     Sylvette’s fame came through photo exhibitions staged by photographers such as David Douglas Duncan, Alexander Liberman, Arnold Newman, François Pages, Edward Quinn and André Villers, who were all displayed in Picasso’s workshop in Vallauris. There, they documented the sessions that took place between the artist and the model. 

     Lydia, or Sylvette, became a great source of inspiration to Picasso, who at the time found himself in somewhat of a creative slump. He created around 60 portraits and 28 paintings of her. The photographic evidence showed us how Picasso worked, and, not least, it gave the world a glimpse into the glamour of the French Riviera in the 50’s.

     Did rumours say that Sylvette offered more than mere modelling services in Picasso’s workshop? According to Lydia herself, she was offered several acting jobs for movies that she turned down as it was a well-known fact you had to sleep with the director. Picasso also met Jacqueline in the summer of 1954, and he lived with her until his death. Still, the citizens of Larvik decided he was too much of a Casanova. The sculpture “Sylvette” was proof to this “fact”, and thus, it could not be erected in the Norwegian town.

     The sculpture called “Jacqueline” found outside Kristinehamn, Sweden, is one of the largest Picasso pieces in the world, spanning an impressive 15 metres. It weighs 35 tonnes, has a circumference of 1,65 metres and two wings with a span of 6 by 4 metres. Placed in the headlands above the lake (note that a similar location was planned for “Sylvette”), “Jacqueline” is one of 33 sculptures Picasso created in collaboration with Carl Nesjar. It was made using natural concrete, a material developed by Erling Viksjø, created in Rekkevik bay, Larvik – and used for the very first time as building material for the H Block and Y Block buildings of the government quarter. 

*In Greek mythology, the muses are the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. They are the guardian goddesses of poetry, song, science and music, philosophy, art, theatre etc. Today, the muse represents a personification of this and a symbol of inspiration for artists, philosophers and scientists, among others.

Text by Annicken Dedekam Råge
Pablo Picasso 29.3.68 II. Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design. Succession Picasso / Bono2020. Image dimmed due to copyright issues. Inserted for navigational purposes only.

The Man from Malaga

In an ever more distant past, upon completing 9th grade and subsequently approaching the lifelong process of composing applications and accepting rejection, I spent my summer break working in the factory. I was 15 years old and still living with my parents. My father worked, like most adult men in the area, in the same factory. Cellulose. Kraft paper. The smell that enveloped Moss back in the day used to trigger flashbacks, it was the scent of my father’s shirt, and it is the scent of my childhood. My fascination for loud music can be traced back to the sounds of the factory – having a conversation in there was impossible. However, in the cafeteria, during the lunch break, one of the first times anyone ever asked me what my plans for the future were, and I was only 15 and had not yet figured out why one should always avoid those kinds of questions, so I replied truthfully, that I was hoping to get accepted into an art school and as an extension of that establish myself as an artist. I was only referred to as Picasso for the rest of that summer. For the simple reason that that was the only artist they knew the name of.

A few years later, whilst actually attending said art school situated approximately in the geographical centre of Sweden, that is, far as hell up north –  I spent my summers devoted to elderly care working at various nursing homes. As I still had not gotten the point of keeping my mouth shut, I was frequently called Picasso by the other staff.

When I eventually made my way into an art academy, and made my money as a typographer at a local newspaper, I received the pleasure of, as I am evidently quite slow to catch on, spending my days at work known only as Picasso. Not because that was the only artist they knew; there was some knowledge present; and one of the older gentleman only referred to me as “Rembrandt”, but because they had figured out that I dabbled in “that kind of modern art where you can’t tell what it’s supposed to be” – and, after a while, they even figured out that it was also basically porn. They kept quiet after that. 

Around that time was when it finally clicked; if you are going to have a random make-ends-meet-job on the side, you can save yourself a great deal of hassle by just not letting people know what it is you really do. Folks would give you less of a strange look if you told them you do suicide bombings during the winter season. But – tsch! – this is not about me! At least, not only me. I bet you that most artists from my generation who have ever had to work for a living have been called Picasso both one and two times. Picasso. It says something about the strength of his brand, in the past and today, that he was more or less synonymous with what some still, more than a hundred years later, refer to as “modern art”.

A few weeks ago, when we were still allowed to go outside, I sauntered around the Henie Onstad Art Centre and looked at something like a million drawings by Picasso from the collection. Burlesquely cheeky scenarios, strictly speaking based off variations over the combination: the male artist, his nude female model, a male friend, a promiscuous female friend and several bottles of wine. And, of course, the sum of the equation; fucking. This provided the locale – we were not many people present on this particular day – with a strange dynamic, due in part also to the extreme amount of works. The careful silence contrasted the activity and the cranked-up volume of the etchings, where an ever more animalistic passion and lust played out in different shapes and forms. But to the same degree an echo from a 20th century where the phone stays at home, faced with a contemporary where the surrounding noise in general is so loud that some of us do not even bother to read the news anymore. 

Then again, it might be old age; I have no idea who these celebrities are, I could not care less about their Instagram posts, and basically, there is no contemporary today, in the same way no real society exists today. Contemporary art has become a 90’s throwback, and Donald Trump as President of the United States is and will always be a dystopian sci-fi tale. Born in 1881, Picasso did not even experience the presidency of Ronald Reagan – what we back then thought of as “the end of politics” – and how are we meant to interpret the artistry of Picasso here and now, as the entire world resembles a gargantuan “Guernica”?

Well, we always have the Y Block. Some people have decided it is important to take care of a piece of unique architecture in the capitol, and others have decided it should be removed – for no other reason than that it can be. But, since a work by Picasso is part of it, one of those completely absurd situations that you occasionally hear or read about, arises; they have decided to keep just that specific part of the building. It reminds one of when Jean Michel Basquiat became the word of the art world and people attempted to hew and pry loose pieces of street graffiti performed by him in his younger days. But this is different. The artwork by Picasso that is an integral part of the Y Block is not exactly in A4-format; it is not even just a part of the wall; it is the wall. A massive wall. This is a behemoth piece of art we are talking about. And where do they intend to place it?

Of course, Picasso has left traces in cities and urban environments all around the world. In the garden outside Moderna Museet in Stockholm (Stockholm Museum of Modern Art), for instance, you will find a group of sculptures based on Eduard Manet’s famous painting The Luncheon on the Grass. But one of the most obscure and wonderful of these traces can be found in Kristinehamn, about 60 kilometres further past Karlstad when driving from Oslo. This is the result of a coincidental meeting between Carl Nesjar and Swedish artist Bengt Olson (born 1930 in Kristinehamn) in Paris 1964. Jacqueline – as in Jacqueline Roque, Picasso’s second and last wife – was the first large-scale concrete sculpture by Picasso, and rising to a total of 15 metres above the ground, it is also the largest in the world. Something tells me it weighs a couple grams as well. It’s not something you would just put in your pocket and walk away with. The sculpture stands by the beach of Swedens second largest lake, Vänern, seven kilometres outside the city. A huge tourist attraction, and also something the locals are not afraid to boast of; Picasso has become a part of the identity of the municipality, and his name pops up here and there. The local pizza restaurant is called Picasso, and the well thought out slogan of the municipality goes “Picasso chose Kristinehamn”, the implicit message being “and so should you”. And by any means, there are worse places to go. Grums, for example.

Text by Tommy Olsson

One Foot in Brutopia

“Brutopia” is a fictional sovereign state in the universe of Donald Duck & Co. It was invented by genius storyteller Carl Barks in 1957, and is a comic strip caricature of the Soviet Union – the arrogant and evil dictatorship aims for world dominance through the use of top secret doomsday weapons. Without knowing anything about Brutopia’s architectural traditions, one could hazard a guess that Brutopians might have had a thing for brutalist architecture. What was this architectural style, and who was able to make it their own? No architect has ever spoken the words “I am a brutalist, and proud of it.” The term first saw the light of day in the 1950’s, and it is derived from the French “Béton brut”, i.e., “raw concrete”.

Although one could argue that the Pantheon in Rome is the first true brutalist building, it is often said that Le Corbusier was the first “brutalist”. That came as a consequence of his 1952 housing project in Marseilles, the official administrative complex in Chandigarh, India (1953), and the concrete chapel in Ronchamp, France (1955).

All these projects point to a sort of rebellion against the strict functionalist architectural style, and options to the classic “Mies box”, that conquered the world in the 50’s (the government quarter in Oslo, Bergen City Hall and Arne Jacobsen’s hotel in Copenhagen, now the Radisson Blu Royal, are typical examples of Mies boxes).

Brutalist architecture sprung from the idea that concrete could be used to cast almost any thinkable shape. The ideas became ever more bold. In a church – a construction dedicated to reflexion and abstract thinking – it became natural to shape the concrete according to ideals from modern abstract sculpture. Something that becomes very evident in Le Crobusier’s Ronchamp chapel, counted amongst his finest works.  

Most likely unbeknownst to Le Corbusier, 1955 also marked the breakthrough for rock ‘n’ roll music. The fever first spread among American teenagers. The leading architects of the 60’s and 70’s were by no means “boppers” – an architect is usually above 40 by the time they get to create anything meaningful.

However, being a “fossil”, as the kids called it, does not have to mean that one is immune to the signs of the times. One would have to have lived under a sizeable concrete slab in order to miss the massive and groundbreaking cultural changes that occurred between 1955 and 1975 (the International Women’s Year), and that several of these changes were rooted in pop and rock music. Elvis was the apostle of the female sexuality revolution, Bob Dylan paved the way for the wave of left-wing radicals and The Beatles popularised the hippie rebellion and drug culture. These are the contemporaries of brutalist architecture. To quote the perpetually silver-tongued Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the father of the Mies box, who just started to dabble in brutalist ideas before his death in 1969: “Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space”.  

And what an epoch! The groundbreaking 60’s and the outrageous 70’s called for a different style than the practical and sensible functionalist architecture. This was a time for hallucinations. A governing principle was still the aesthetic of functionalism, dictating the use of affordable and honest materials (cast concrete) and avoid anything reminiscent of adornments or architectural flourishes. Brutalist buildings are never decorated. But the shapes of the structures went in different directions entirely.

The TV had made its way into people’s homes, and what were they offered there? Other than endless sitcoms and reports from the Vietnam War, live broadcasts from the Space Race between the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union.

What, then, could oppose the idea that a library should look like a space ship? Perhaps mainly the fact that the library would remain firmly grounded (but you never know!), however, that counterpoint was null and void in the 60’s. This was, after all, the generation of aerodynamic fridges.

The brutalist style is like rock ‘n’ roll mixed with science-fiction, a concoction that happened to also be David Bowie’s recipe for success. His home town, London, was blessed with particularly high number of buildings built in this particular new style. After the blitz in the 40’s, there were still huge areas that needed rebuilding. The 60’s and 70’s was a time of massive public urban development.

The architects were such as Hungarian born Ernö Goldfinger (who inspired one of the most memorable of all Bond villains), John Madin and Owen Luder & Partners, the masterminds behind a skyscraper in Dunston by Newcastle that became known colloquially as “The Dunston Rocket”.

The examples of brutalist architecture that popped up were massive, authoritarian and generally despised by the public. Still, the debate rages on; which brutalist building will be the next to go? Also noteworthy is the fact that the man at the forefront of brutalist opposition in England is the Prince of Wales himself. Could one ever imagine a man further removed from the legend of Elvis Presley?  

The Prince’s mother kept mum about these matters; perhaps wisely so. In any case, she dutifully cut the ribbon at the opening night of the Royal National Theatre complex in London in 1976. Her son, Charles, on the other hand, called the brutalist masterpiece “a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting”. Today, the theatre complex is protected.

Within this new, bold architectural style lies endless cinematic opportunities. Stanley Kubrick (who did not discover rock ‘n’ roll until Full Metal Jacket (1987)), had a nose for things like these. Big parts of the director’s futuristic film A Clockwork Orange (1971) were shot on location, partly in order to save on production costs. Here, futuristic urban environments were a-plenty, and they were only a few years old. The lecture centre at Brunel University became the Ludovici clinic, where protagonist Alex is subjected to personality altering treatments (a.k.a. brainwashing). Alex and his crew live in and terrorise Thamesmead, an enormous social housing project in east London that is now almost completely derelict.

However; brutalism in a state of ruin – or in the process of becoming such – holds certain fascinating qualities. In Havana on Cuba, where practically everything except a few tourists’ facilities is crumbling, one can find urban environments where tropical vegetation and cancerous formations of black moss force their way through bold concrete structures.

High above the once affluent suburb of Miramar west of the city centre, the Tower of Sauron looms. It is the Russian, formerly Soviet Russian, embassy, designed by Aleksander Rotsjegov. A concrete tower offering a 360 degree view of the entire city, a city that was in most respects under complete Soviet control after the completion of the embassy in 1985. Some see a sword, firmly planted in the ground, others see the plunger of a giant syringe, and many agree that the embassy building must indeed be a kind of Transformer robot.  

The Soviet Union, a nation in which the sole employer was the one and only State, a Brutopia arose. Rock ‘n’ roll music was strictly regulated behind the iron curtain, but as a trade-off, they were given free reins when it came to using raw, cast concrete. In Russia today, most people are less than happy with this period in architecture, and the buildings are hard to find and crumbling (concrete, unlike marble, needs care and maintenance). There are some examples left that most of all look like the abandoned set of a Star Wars-film.

As previously discussed, the brutalist style was not one for decor or adornment. But what if a building had to be created that, for different reasons such as plot restrictions etc., did not allow for three-dimensional explorations? But every problem has a solution.

When the arts centre named after president Georges Pompidou opened near Les Halles in Paris in 1977, a scandal washed over France, the birthplace of all things art scandal-y. Long before its completion, Paris taxi drivers named it “The Gasworks”. The architects were Richard Rodgers and Renzo Piano. The Pompidou Centre is made with “honest” concrete, but the trick is that all the functions that are usually invisible, are placed on the outside of the building. The house has simply been turned inside-out. From the square outside, the ventilation system (blue pipes), the water supply (green pipes), elevators and escalators (red) and the electrical supply (yellow) are all clearly visible. Is this brutalist, too? You bet.

A different, smaller example, is the ICC congress centre in West-Berlin, completed in 1979. The plot that was available was a large traffic island, and architects Ralf Schüler and Ursulina Schüler-Witte took the opportunity to gather inspiration from naval architecture. ICC is an ultra-modern cruise ship on land, “functionalist” in that the futuristic technological facilities are fully visible from the outside, determining the aesthetic of the building.

The Schüler couple also designed Berlin’s most charming brutalist structure. It is located in Steglitz and called “Bierpinsel” (the beer brush). This 46 metres tall concrete colossus was originally inspired by a tree, designated to house a restaurant and night club, and is, if possible, even more amusing to look at today, after it was painted in vibrant colours ten years ago.

Brutalism spread to the entire world, almost like a fever or pandemic sweeping the globe for a few crazy years, only to be forgotten and repressed by all except a handful of nostalgics and enthusiasts. A little like the Sweet hit “Ballrom Blitz” from 1973 – it is hard to imagine anything more in tune with the zeitgeist … or sexier.

Mexico City has some excellent examples. What happened was, Mexico, perceived by most as a developing country at the time, was awarded the honour of hosting the Summer Olympics in the year 1968. Time to show the world! In 1963, construction on the the National Museum of Anthropology (designed by Pedri Ramírez Vásquez) commenced, destined to tell the fascinating story of Mexico’s rich and powerful civilisations that thrived before the Spanish conquistadors arrived. All this history is now housed within an absolutely gorgeous brutalist structure that we, without a moment’s hesitation, would pronounce the most amazing museum in the world.

The courtyard here is truly the place to go to reflect upon beauty and impermanence, human sacrifice and other acts of brutality, underneath a giant concrete lid somehow held up by one single pillar. Many an earthquake have had a go at it, but it stands today, utterly unfazed. Brutalism done right can take a real beating.

Text by Torgrim Eggen

The Y-block building for Dummies

1939: An architectural competition for the new government quarter in Oslo is launched. Erling Viksjø submits his contribution, a competitor to that of the architectural firm Ove Bang, where Viksjø is hired. The contribution is called “Vestibyle”. Both designs go through to the next stage of the competition.

1939–1940: As WWII erupts, the project is put on hold. Viksjø, who took over the architectural firm after Ove Bang’s death, is sent to Grini prison camp. He immerses himself in the arts. Released on VE Day, May 8, 1945. 

1946: Viksjøs contribution “Vestibyle” is unearthed after seven years and wins the competition.

1955: Architect Erling Viksjø and engineer Sverre Jystad take out a patent on natural concrete, a casting method involving naturally round cut river gravel.

1957: Viksjø sends Nesjar to France, where the latter is granted a fully coincidental audience with Picasso. He accepts the invitation to work on the embellishment of the Oslo government quarter.

1958: All 14 floors of the H Block are completed. Viksjø contributes with art, and he calls in progressive artists to create art to be incorporated into the mass of the building; Inger Sitter, Carl Nesjar, Odd Tandberg, Kai Fjell and Hannah Ryggen. 

1969: The Y Block is a pavilion in the first draft, but it is developed into an office building as part of the original plan for the government quarter. It is completed this year. The low, five-floor building stands as a balancing element to the tall and slim H Block.

15 July 2011: The H og Y Blocks in the Viksjø complex are classified world class 1, placed under protection and the protection act is to be sent over to the Directorate for Cultural Heritage to be signed in August.

22 July 2011: The terrorist drives up Grubbe street to Einar Gerhardsens square and parks a bomb in the shape of a van outside the entrance to the H Block, all the while dressed as a police officer. He exits the car, locks it and disappears in the direction of Hammersborg.

27 July 2011: On August 12, Alexandra Bech Gjørv is appointed leader of the independent 22 July Commission. The Commission is put together to investigate how the terrorist attack could happen.

12 August 2011: The 22 July Commission’s report is completed and handed over to Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

25 January 2012: Newspaper VG presents a classified security assessment that was previously handed over to Minister of Renewal Rigmor Aasrud (AP) of the police, where the government is advised to group the Ministries together in the centre of Oslo rather than spreading them out. VG dubs the suggestion “a centralisation of power”. 

7 June 2013: Jørn Holme from the Directorate for Cultural Heritage states that the H Block must be preserved and pens an op-ed for national broadcaster NRK. The conservation plans that was put into place before 22 July, where the Viksjø complex, the H Block and the Y Block were to be protected as one, is put on hold.  

27 June 2013: Project management company Metier presents the report regarding the government quarter from the concept commission to Minister of Renewal Rigmor Aaserud (AP) at the Ministry of Renewal, Administration and Church activity. Preservation is up for discussion, but it is decided it would be too expensive and the final recommendation is to demolish the H Block and the Y Block.

4 July 2013: VG interviews Trond Blattmann, leader of the 22 July National Support Group. According to Blattmann, the question of preservation is, and should be, based on emotions. – On July 22, we proved that the terrorist could not take down the H Block, says Blattmann. 

4 September 2013: NRK publishes a 2013 survey concerning the preservation or demolishing of the H Block. 496 architects participated in the survey. 65,7% of the participants wanted to keep the H Block and Y Block buildings in place. 

9 September 2013: Høyre (conservative party) wins the election. Right wing parties Høyre, Fremskrittspartiet, Kristelig Folkeparti and Venstre get 96 mandates, and the left side, represented by Arbeiderpartiet, Senterpartiet and Sosialistisk Venstreparti, get 72. Jens Stoltenberg leaves the Prime Minister post, Erna Solberg takes over.

11 October 2013: Jørn Holme from the Directorate for Cultural Heritage points out that government offices all over the world are usually rebuilt after an attack has taken place. Reports show that neither the H Block nor the Y Block have suffered structural damages. Minister of Environment Bård Vegar Solhjell (SV) is unhappy with the decision that preservation is too costly and commissions a new report focusing on energy conservation. 

19 December 2013: Councilman in urban development, Bård Folke Fredriksen (H), presents the results of Oslo’s local government hearing and the resulting agreement that the Y Block should be demolished, against the wishes of his own agency. The City Council is concerned about the main fire station in Oslo that has been located at Hammersborg since 1941.  

25 May 2014: National newspaper Aftenposten reports from a hastily announced press conference. Prime Minister Erna Solberg (H) and Minister of Local Government and Modernisation, Jan Tore Sanner, announce that the new plan is to keep the H Block, but tear down the Y Block. They pick “concept East”. The plans to demolish the Y Block go directly against recommendations from architecture, art and conservation experts. The main counter argument is that the location above the main traffic vein of the city makes the area too difficult to secure.

Leader of the 22 July National Support Group, Jon Hestnes, tells NRK that he is happy the H Block stands as the Y Block is torn down in the name of security. He wishes to preserve the art and calls for the construction of a 22 July information office situated within the H Block.  

Kim Skaara, President of the National Association of Norwegian Architects, expresses joy at the fact that the government has decided to keep the H Block, but raises the matter of whether or not the H and Y Blocks should be seen as two parts of a whole.

3 June 2014: Picasso’s heirs are disappointed and think the government should have spoken to them about the future of the Y Block. Claudia Andrieu in Administration Picasso points to rights and the cultural relevance.

8 September 2014: Support Rally to Preserve the Y Block (SFBYB), led by Hanne Sophie Claussen, establishes a Facebook Page in order to spread the message #laYstå (let Y stand). The first meeting for Y supporters is held in the building that houses the National Trust of Norway.

9 February, 2015: The first people’s rally by SFBYB in front of the Y Block is set up by Hanne Sophie Claussen, Kjersti Hembre and Marianne Borge in collaboration with the National Trust in Oslo.

13 April 2015: Six architect and consultant teams deliver propositions for the design of the new government quarter. So-called parallel commissions  are carried out in order to secure an influx of new ideas and solutions to serve as a basis for a plan of regulation for the new government quarter.

1 June 2015: ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) sends a letter to the Solberg government regarding the preservation of the Y Block.

6 October, 2015: Statsbygg (The Norwegian Directorate of Public Construction and Property) presents a plan to lower Ring 1 and redirect it through a tunnel underneath the government quarter.

7 December, 2015: The Y Block is added to Europa Nostras list of the 14 most endangered heritage sites in Europe. The list is put together by an international panel of experts.

17 March2016: Second in Command for left wing party Venstre, Ola Elvestuen, supports Jørn Holme from the Directorate for Cultural Heritage, who believes the Y Block can be preserved if the Foreign Ministry offices remains in West end Oslo. Security and lack of space are given as reasons to tear the Y Block down.

13 June 2016: Minister of Local Government and Modernisation, Jan Tore Sanner (H), sends the plans for the new government quarter over to Statsbygg (The Norwegian Directorate of Public Construction and Property). Sanner firmly states that he will not be listening to any suggestions from from the Directorate for Cultural Heritage or others to consider solutions where the Y Block is kept in place. 

25 October 2016: The second people’s rally led by SFBYB in front of the Y Block is arranged with the help of the National Trust in Oslo. People form a circle around the building and the film “Hammersborg protecting the bygone future” is projected on top of the Picasso mural “The Fishermen”.

28 September 2018: ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) issues an “International Heritage Alert” to the Directorate for Cultural Heritage accompanied by a letter addressed to Prime Minister Erna Solberg. According to ICOMOS, it is clear that demolition has been a prerequisite in the planning of the new government quarter, and that  possibilities involving an environmentally friendly repurposing of the Y Block have been ignored. They also call the matter of security into question. 

31 October 2016: The hearing deadline for the suggestion presented by Statsbygg (The Norwegian Directorate of Public Construction and Property) expires. Director for Cultural Heritage Jørn Holme presents suggestions showing how Picasso’s art in the Y Block can be preserved by reconstructing the building into a C-shape. The suggestion receives no support from Minister of Local Government and Modernisation Jan Tore Sanner. 

27 September 2017: At a press conference, Director of Public Construction and Property Harald Nikolaisen announces that the winner of the architectural competition for the government quarter is the project group Team Urbis with the proposal “Adapt”. Team Urbis is to sign a contract worth approximately one billion Norwegian kroner.

16 October 2017: Team G8+ Architect Team (LPO Architects, A-Lab, Ra- tio Architects, IARK, Gullik Gulliksen AS, Sweco, Norconsult and Dr. Techn. Olav Olsen as) is the runner up in the architectural competition. They file a complaint against Statsbygg and the jury, stating that they have compromising information about the winner that could lead to disqualification. They demand that the competition is cancelled and consider taking the matter to court. 

16 January 2018: A new and compact government quarter has now been in the planning stage for four years and the price tag has already hit 274 million kroner. Left wing party Venstre is now part of the new government. That means that they can influence discussions to keep the Foreign Ministry in place at Victoria Terrasse, as well as the continued use of the R5 building in Akersgata. If they succeeded, the Y Block could be left standing and new office buildings could be built lower.

8 June 2018: 19 architectural firms divided into five teams join forces to file a second and more comprehensive complaint against Statsbygg. The architect teams are convinced that there has been foul play afoot. The teams state that the winners were in possession of information other participants did not gain access to. 

28 September, 2018: Plans for a new government quarter by Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Minister of Finance Siv Jensen, Minister of Environment Ola Elvestuen and Minister of Local Government and Modernisation Monica Mæland. Suggestion that the Picasso frieze “The Fishermen” becomes the front of a new building facing Youngstorget square.

24 October 2018: A third people’s rally in front of the Y Block. Planned by Hanne Sophie Claussen and Kjersti Hembre, with a protest march going from the Y Block to Stortinget (Parliament).

13 February 2019: Statsbygg presents new drafts for the government quarter. The south-facing part of the so-called B Block is reduced by approximately 7 000 square metres. Development is planned to happen in three stages.  

28 March 2019: Grafill opens the exhibition “Spreng den/Riv den” (Blow it up/Tear it down) – a protest and exploration of the demolishing of the Y Block in the shape of art. Erling Viksjø’s architectural designs and the unique collaboration between Carl Nesjar and Pablo Picasso is interpreted by young artists.

13 September 2019: SFBYB and Henie Onstad Art Centre arrange a rally in front of the Y Block. Speakers attend. Everyone dresses in striped jumpers as an homage to Picasso.

27 September 2019: The Agency for Planning and Building Services files a complaint with The County Governor of Oslo against the decision to demolish. The complaint is penned by the National Trust, ICOMOS, the National Association of Norwegian Architects, Oslo Association of Architects and two private individuals. The result is there is not enough grounds for the demolition permit to be rescinded, anchored in the state plans for development.

11 November 2019: The County Governor of Oslo does not have the authority to act on the complaint, but he urges the government to reconsider the serious objections to the demolition plans.

13 December, 2019: Statsbygg is let off the hook. The Appeals Commission for state acquisitions is convinced that Statsbygg adhered to the rules in the case where five architect teams filed a joint complaint against the way the architectural competition was run. 

20 November 2019: According to numbers from Statsbygg, the planning and construction works on the government quarter has cost approximately 7.9 billion kroner from 2011 to 2019. The funds have been spent on planning the new government quarter, cleaning efforts, the demolishing of the S Block and replacement offices. 

07 November 2019: A complaint is filed with the Ombudsman on behalf of the National Association of Norwegian Architects, Oslo Association of Architects, the National Trust and the Support Rally to Preserve the Y Block, who all agree that the County Governor’s assessment is invalid.

2 January 2020: SFBYB gathers 1 500–2 000 people in front of the Y Block. Torchlight protest march outside parliament. On the same night, the art exhibition “Picasso 347” opens at Henie Onstad Art Centre.

28 January 2020: The Protect the Y Block protest group is established on Facebook, gathering more than 20 700 members in three months. By May 2020, a petition started by SFBYB has gathered more than 50 000 signatures.

29 January 2020: No go! The National Trust, the National Association of Norwegian Architects, Oslo Association of Architects, and the Support Rally to Preserve the Y Block have appealed the frame permit for the demolition of the Y Block. The Ombudsman rejects the appeal on this day.

30 January 2020: Recently instilled Minister of Local Government and Modernisation Nikolai Astrup makes his stance known with his op-ed “Why the Y Block has to Go”, published in national newspaper Aftenposten.

25 February 2020: The Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology stage the exhibition “The Government Quarter”, opened by Marianne Borgen, Mayor of Oslo.

26 February 2020: The Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation sends a letter to Statsbygg stating that they can commence the preparations for demolition. Minister Nikolai Astrup confirms it to NRK.

12 March 2020: A summons is served to the state government. DLA Piper, represented by attorney Berit Reiss-Andersen, delivers a summons against the State Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation on behalf of the National Association of Norwegian Architects and the National Trust. The summons regards “the invalidity of State development plans and framework permit for the demolishing of the Y Block”.

25–26 March 2020: A court hearing is adjourned where the matter of temporary injunction is treated; The Y Block cannot be demolished before the case has been treated in court.

7 April 2020: The court of Oslo rejects the request for a temporary injunction and green-lights the demolishing of the building.  

17 April 2020: Minister of Environment Sveinung Rotevatn presents the government’s new stance on heritage and communicates that the government feels that repurposing buildings is far more beneficial for the environment that tearing down old and building new structures. 

22 April 2020: Oslo’s City Council Members have a change of heart and decide to vote for preservation. Construction fencing has been erected and Statsbygg is busy preparing the removal of the Picasso wall that is to happen before the summer. Again, the government refuses to reconsider.

28 April 2020: Former holder of the director’s chair for the Agency for Planning and Building Services for 21 years, Ellen de Vibe, chains herself to the building along with several others to protest the government’s stubbornness, COVID restrictions in mind. The police removes the protesters after six hours. 

29 April 2020: Art photographer Adrian Bugge launches the art project yblokkfoto.no – a digital protest exhibition.

1 May 2020: Citizens parade in virtual May 17 (Norway’s independence day) processions with posters and banners that read Let Y stand! Stop the demolishing now!

5 May 2020: TV host Fredrik Solvang gets involved. He hosts a popular debating show in which he brings up the matter of the Y Block under the headline: “Nine Years after the Bomb, Activists are Working Overtime to Save the Picasso Adorned Y Block”.

10 May 2020: The main commission for environment, culture and business in Larvik thinks the connection to Nesjar is sound, they want the Picasso art moved to their city.

12 May 2020: Oslo City Council, Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Minister of Climate and Environment Sveinung Rotevatn and Minister of Local Government and Modernisation Nikolai Astrup receive a letter from MoMa in New York. They are of the opinion that moving these location specific pieces of art will deter the intentions of the artist. SV (socialist left wing party) wants to use a Document 8-proposition to make the government stop the demolition post-haste. Activists form a chain from the Y Block to parliament.  

16 May 2020: The director at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona and five other top leaders at Spanish art and architectural institutions protest the demolishing of the Y Block collectively, according to reports from VG.

28 May 2020: “A Cardinal Error of Astrup to Demolish now”, writes Dagsavisen. A dilemma presents itself; SV’s proposition to stop the demolition is waiting to be treated by parliament while the very same building is about to be torn down. Voted on in parliament June 3.

19 June 2020: The opposition hopes to rescue a unified Viksjø complex with the H and Y Block buildings together in the revised national budget, with a suggestion to downscale the new government quarter. 

To be continued … 

 

Interior of the H-block building when presented to the press in 1958. There was an emphasis of proudly showing Norewgian design all through the building. Photo: Teigens Fotoatelier / Dextra Photo.

 

Over the last few years, much has been written about the Y Block, one of Erling Viksjø’s most significant architectural works, and about the totems of cultural history that were destroyed on 22 July 2011. Plenty of articles on the artistic adornments of the buildings have been published, however, the Norwegian design elements that made up the interior have been largely overlooked. 

Following World War II, only a select few designers and manufacturers of furniture, lighting solutions and textiles were commissioned for public buildings of prestige in Norway. Among them were manufacturers Hiorth and Østlyngen, A. Huseby and Co., Hans Bundt Monrad and interior architects Alf Sture and Bjørn Ianke.

Norway was being rebuilt, and the state wanted to showcase Norwegian craftsmanship, both design and manufactured goods. As a natural consequence of this, the H Block was to be furnished using Norwegian products.  

For the most important rooms, furniture from Hiorth og Østlyngen designed by Alf Sture was chosen. The Prime Minister’s office on the 14th floor was to be a centrepiece. When the room was introduced to photographs in 1958 as the H Block was completed, it was sparsely furnished. Upholstered furniture and walls in different shades of blue were the stand out features.

Alf Sture’s director’s desk 113/93 dominated the room, along with the armchair 104/58. There was a couch there, and a couple of armchairs, for when Prime Minister Einar Gerhardsen had visitors at the office. The feature wall was equipped with a niche where photographs of former Prime Ministers were displayed. A combined library and resting area furnished with light teak furniture could be found not far from the office. Kjell Richardsens steel tube armchairs were also featured. 

On commission from Norway Designs and in collaboration with Erling Viksjø, Sigrun Berg designed wool curtains, carpets and furniture fabrics for the great hall, antechamber, lobby, wardrobe and post office. All fabrics were manufactured at De Forenede Ullvarefabrikker (The United Wool Product Factories), Fredfoss branch. Most of the light fittings for the H Block were custom designed by award winning lead designer Birger Dahl for Oslo-based company Sønnico.

Nobø, a company based in Trondheim, supplied panel heaters. In most cases, the fairly flat heater model, C-radatior, with a discreetly wavy front. Different types of filing cabinets were also supplied by them. However, the interior design piece that generated the most attention must be Bjørn A. Larsen’s door handle 2155, that was immediately dubbed “the government handle”. It was made of chrome-plated brass or brass, nickel-plated in matt and glossy finishes. In all, around 750–900 door handles were delivered to the H Block. 

Unfortunately, today’s public acquisitions of furniture are of foreign origin. Although a not insignificant amount of Scandinavian design is acquired, only a small part of it is Norwegian. Returning to the post-war mindset could make sense. An effort should be made to keep competitions for buildings of significance within the frame of the nation, in order to strengthen the position of designers and contribute to Norwegian industry. In the long run, these kinds of initiatives contribute to the strengthening of a national character, after all.

Text by Mats Linder
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