A Pablo Picasso painting must remain at the entrance to New York’s Four Seasons restaurant pending more hearings into a preservationist group’s claim that the artwork would be severely damaged in a move, a judge said.
“Le Tricorne,” the 1919 painted stage curtain that has hung at the far end of the lobby since the restaurant opened in July 1959, will stay put for the time being, State Supreme Court Justice Carol Edmead ruled today during a hearing in Manhattan. She extended an order issued in February temporarily preventing its removal by the owners of the Seagram Building on Park Avenue.
The 19-foot-by-20-foot painting, whose name means “Three Cornered Hat,” is one of a handful of curtains that Picasso painted for Sergei Diaghilev’s ballet of the same name and is the artist’s largest painting in America, according to the New York Landmarks Conservancy. The group, which was deeded the painting, asked the court in February to stop RFR Holding Corp., the building’s owner, from removing the work.
RFR said in court filings that it needs to remove the work from the lobby to repair damage to the wall behind the curtain caused by moisture coming from the restaurant’s kitchen, and that a ruling in the conservancy’s favor would “turn New York real estate law on its head.”
The painting was selected by Phyllis Lambert, daughter of Samuel Bronfman, who formed the conglomerate Seagram Co., for the restaurant’s entrance. The modernist 38-story skyscraper, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, opened in 1958 at 375 Park Avenue between East 52nd and 53rd streets.
The work has hung at the far end of the lobby since the restaurant opened, according to a 2005 press release from Vivendi SA (VIV), which bought Seagram in 2000. Vivendi planned to sell the curtain at an auction of works in 2003 to reduce debt and later decided to donate it to the conservancy.
While the interior of the restaurant is a designated landmark, as is the building itself, the artwork wasn’t part of that designation, according to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
RFR, founded by Aby Rosen and partner Michael Fuchs in 1991, purchased the Seagram Building for $375 million in 2000. The company also owns the Lever House at 390 Park Avenue and the Gramercy Park Hotel.
The conservancy says that Rosen has referred to the painting as a “schmatte,” the Yiddish word for rag, and wants to display pieces from his contemporary art collection in the corridor where the curtain hangs, which is known as “Picasso Alley.”
“There’s no basis for this other than malice,” James H. Rowland of Zetlin & De Chiara LLP, an attorney for the conservancy, said during today’s hearing. “Mr. Rosen just doesn’t want it there. He doesn’t care if it will be damaged.”
Andrew B. Kratenstein, an attorney with McDermott Will & Emery LLP representing RFR Holdings, said the conservancy is speculating that the painting will be damaged if it’s moved, pointing out that the work was moved in 1975 and remained unharmed.
Kratenstein said the movers who were hired determined that the curtain’s “entire support system” appears to be failing and that the painting needs to be taken down for restoration. The wall needs to repaired before the restaurant’s lease expires in 2016, said Kratenstein, who told the judge there has been no decision on whether to renew the lease.
“It could self-destruct standing in place,” Kratenstein said.
Edmead scheduled hearings in the case starting April 30 to hear from experts as to the extent of the damage of the wall behind the work and whether or not the painting will be harmed if it’s moved.
The case is In the Matter of the Application of Landmarks Conservancy Inc., 151097/2014, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).
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