Picasso Tapestry Evicted by Aby Rosen Finds New Home
The fragile painting will move uptown.
The fate of Pablo Picasso‘s Le Tricorne, a longtime fixture at New York’s Four Seasons restaurant, has been decided: the painting has got to go, reports the New York Times. Luckily, the New York Historical Society has stepped in and will adopt the homeless artwork.
Since 1959, the piece has been displayed in the Seagram Building, but now the landlord—art collector and real estate mogul Aby Rosen (also in the news of late for upsetting Woodbury residents with his public display of The Virgin Mary, a massive Damien Hirst sculpture of a pregnant woman that graphically shows the unborn fetus)—wants it gone. As artnet News reported in April, Rosen, the chairman of the state’s Council on the Arts (See What is Collector Aby Rosen Doing as New York’s Arts Council Chairman), was sued by the painting’s owner, non-profit preservationist group the New York Landmarks Conservancy, when he attempted to take down the 1919 theater curtain, ostensibly to repair the wall on which the 19-by-20-foot tapestry hangs.
Although the interior of the Four Seasons has had landmark status since 1989, the Picasso work is specifically excluded from that designation because it is privately owned. As such, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission does not have to be consulted for it to be removed.
While RFR Holding, Rosen’s real estate company, cited engineering reports that showed the limestone wall behind the Picasso was structurally unsound, the Conservancy believed that the curtain was too fragile to be safely transported. Rosen was also accused of having a personal dislike of the piece, and of referring to it as a schmatte (the Yiddish term for a rag).
In the court of public opinion, the Conservancy was the clear winner. Some, like Vanity Fair, offered impassioned pleas for preserving the Picasso Alley between the restaurant’s pool room and grill room as part of a carefully curated gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art. Many reports dwelled on the fear that the work could “crack like a potato chip” were it to be moved. (The provocative quote comes from a Times interview with Conservancy president Peg Breen, who was in turn quoting the professional opinion of an RFR mover.)
After negotiations, however, it would appear that Rosen is getting what he wants. The ousted Picasso will move 25 blocks north to 77th Street and Central Park West, where it is being taken in by the Historical Society. The institution will make the huge Picasso the centerpiece of its second-floor gallery, prominently displaying in in Dexter Hall. It is expected Rosen will use the now-vacant space at the restaurant to display a rotating selection of works from his private collection.
“It was meant to be a gift to the city…”
In a phone interview with artnet News, Breen seemed disappointed that the artwork was being evicted, but pleased with the cases’s resolution. “It was meant to be a gift to the city, and this way it will be there for an even wider section of the public to see,” she said. “The Historical Society sees it as an iconic symbol of the city’s social and cultural history, so in a sense it’s getting more prominence than if it went to a museum that had more Picassos.”
“It will be great for us to show the piece as a work of art and as an artifact of a time and place,” Louise Mirrer, president of the Historical Society, told the Times. “New York is a tear-down, build-up city. We house the artifacts of whatever past has vanished.”
For his part, Rosen, will foot the bill for taking down, cleaning, restoring, and moving the artwork, an extremely delicate job given the curtain’s advanced age. While it remains uncertain if there was ever any real structural issue with the wall in question, Rosen made it clear to Breen that the painting was no longer welcome, and would not be included in the upcoming lease renewal.
“It’s Mr. Rosen’s wall and he sees something that he wants to do on it, then he will,” Breen said. Thanks to the case, however, Le Tricorne is “now one of the best-known Picassos in New York. I expect a lot of people will come see it. It’s really going to be featured and it’s really going to be loved.”
artnet News also spoke with conservator Harriet Irgang Alden, who three years ago oversaw the restoration of Howard Chandler Christy’s Fantasy Scenes with Naked Beauties murals at another historic New York city restaurant, the Leopard at des Artistes. As she put it, “New York isn’t losing an icon; it’s just moving to a new home… It’s good to know that it is going to an institution where it can be properly cared for.”
The Conservancy is currently awaiting proposals from conservators, and does not have a timeline for when the tapestry will be moved. So, if you’ve still never seen Picasso Alley, you have a little more time to see it in situ, but you’d be wise to make your Four Seasons reservation sooner rather than later.
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