A Pablo Picasso painting will be severely damaged if it’s removed from New York’s Four Seasons restaurant, a preservationist group said in a lawsuit against the owner of the Seagram Building.
The not-for-profit New York Landmarks Conservancy sued yesterday in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, seeking an order preventing RFR Holding Corp., the owner of the Park Avenue building where the restaurant is located, from removing the 1919 stage-curtain painting from where it has hung for half a century.
RFR said in November that it intended to remove the work from the lobby because of a leaking steam pipe and damage to the wall behind the painting, while an engineer and an expert sent by the conservancy found no evidence of a leak or damage, according to the court filing.
A move in a “quick and improper manner will undoubtedly result in severe and permanent damage to the Picasso curtain,” the conservancy said in the filing. One of the movers hired by RFR told the conservancy that the work is so fragile it might “crack like a potato chip” no matter how careful they are, the conservancy said.
It said RFR co-founder Aby Rosen’s only reason for removing the work is that he dislikes it and wants to replace it with other art. Rosen has referred to the painting as a “schmatte,” the Yiddish word for rag, the conservancy said.
RFR hired a moving company to take the painting from the building at 3 a.m. on Feb. 9, “in the dead of night,” and the conservancy wants to block that until the matter can be resolved, according to court papers.
The conservancy expects to be in court this afternoon to argue for an injunction stopping the removal, Peg Breen, its president, said in a telephone interview.
The interior parts of the Four Seasons are designated landmarks, like the Seagram Building itself, and the area where the painting is located is known as “Picasso Alley,” making it an integral part of the restaurant, the conservancy said. RFR even refers to the painting on its website for the building, it said.
The painting was selected by Phyllis Lambert, daughter of the Seagram Co.’s Samuel Bronfman, to hang at the restaurant’s entrance before 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 in July 1959, according to a 2005 press release from Vivendi SA, 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.
The interior of the restaurant was designated a landmark by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission in October 1989, according to a report on the commission’s website. The art in the restaurant, “while long associated with the restaurant,” was not part of the designation.
The 20-foot-by-22-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.
RFR, founded by 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. A spokesman, Sheldon Werdiger, didn’t return a voice-mail message seeking comment on the lawsuit.
The restaurant may lose its lease when it expires in late 2016 if it can’t come to an agreement with RFR, which is seeking to “substantially” increase the rent, the New York Post reported yesterday, citing an unidentified person.
The case is In the Matter of the Application of Landmarks Conservancy Inc., 151097/2014, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).