Massive Dorothea Rockburne Murals at Risk in Midtown New York

The murals were commissioned in 1993 to rave reviews.

Dorothea Rockburne, Northern Sky (1993). Photo: Dorothea Rockburne.

Two massive murals by Dorothea Rockburne, which grace a Midtown office building formerly headquartered by Sony, may be destroyed at the hands of the building’s new owner, the Chetrit Group.

The acclaimed murals in the lobby of 550 Madison Avenue—called Northern Sky and Southern Sky, based on their positions relative to the sunrise and sunset—were commissioned in 1993 by Michael Schulhof, then head of Sony and the son of major art collectors. The 30-by-30-foot murals took Rockburne two years to plan, and eight weeks to paint with the help of a crew.

The Chetrit Group paid $1.1 billion for the property in 2014, with the intention of converting its upper levels to condos, according to the New York Post. Rockburne alleges that she has heard nothing from the new owners regarding the fate of the murals, despite having reached out to them repeatedly.

“I’m heartbroken, absolutely heartbroken about it. It’s a very major work,” the 83-year-old artist said, noting that if the murals can’t stay put, she’d like to see them donated to a museum.

Dorsey Waxter of Van Doren Waxter Gallery, which represents Rockburne, writes an e-mail to artnet News: “These two murals by virtue of their scale are among the artist’s most important public commissions.”

Jonathan Chetrit, son of Chetrit Group founder Joseph Chetrit, told the Post that they have been in contact with Rockburne and are working with her to figure out what to do with the murals. Rockburne rebuffed this claim, stating: “He’s bulls–ting you. I’ve been trying to contact him for two years.”

550 Madison Avenue. Photo: Wikipedia.

550 Madison Avenue.
Photo: Wikipedia.

Calls to the Chetrit Group were not immediately returned.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time the Chetrit Group has ruffled feathers in the art world. The real estate development firm was behind the controversial Bronx party thrown by artist Lucien Smith (and attended by various models, socialites, and celebrities) to promote two recently-purchased properties on the Harlem River that will eventually be developed into over 2,000 residences.


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