Four Seasons Picasso Removal Opposed by Landmarks Group

The New York Landmarks Conservancy sued the owner of the Seagram Building in midtown Manhattan to block the removal of a Pablo Picasso painting from the Four Seasons restaurant, saying the work will be severely damaged.

The not-for-profit group filed the suit today in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, seeking a permanent injunction preventing the building’s owner, RFR Holding Corp., from removing the 1919 stage-curtain painting from the restaurant where it has hung for a half-century.

RFR said in November that it intended to remove the painting from the lobby because of a leaking steam pipe and damage to the wall behind the painting, yet an engineer and an expert sent by the conservancy found no evidence of a leak or damage to the wall, according to the court filing.

The planned move “in such quick and improper manner will undoubtedly result in severe and permanent damage to the Picasso curtain,” the conservancy said in the suit.

The conservancy said RFR’s contention that the painting needs to be removed for repairs is false and RFR co-founder Aby Rosen’s only reason for removing it is that he dislikes the work 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.

Three O’Clock

RFR has hired a moving company to take the painting from the building at 3 a.m. on Feb. 9, and the conservancy wants to block that until the matter can be finally resolved, according to the filing.

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, the conservancy said.

The painting was selected by Phyllis Lambert, daughter of Seagram liquor company President 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 1959, according to a 2005 press release from Vivendi SA, which bought Seagram Co. 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 Landmarks Conservancy.

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 spokesman Sheldon Werdiger didn’t immediately return a voice-mail message left after regular business hours seeking comment on the lawsuit.

The case is In the Matter of the Application of Landmarks Conservancy Inc., 151097/2014, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).

(Corrects description of Diaghilev work in 10th paragraph.)
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