Picasso’s Unmovable Feast: Pablo Picasso’s most readily accessible painting isn’t in a museum…Posted: February 15, 2014
“I don’t want to be the judge who has a Picasso destroyed”
“Le Tricorne” is a 19-foot-tall canvas that Picasso painted in 1919 for Sergei Diaghilev‘s Ballets Russes. It was originally used as a curtain for “The Three-Cornered Hat,” a now-classic ballet composed by Manuel de Falla and choreographed by Léonide Massine for which Picasso designed the sets and costumes. John Richardson, Picasso’s biographer, considers the décor for the ballet to be his “supreme theatrical achievement,” and the curtain is a priceless relic, one of the last surviving souvenirs of the most influential ballet company of the 20th century. Forty years after Picasso painted it, Philip Johnson incorporated “Le Tricorne” into his plans for the Four Seasons Restaurant, which is located in Mies van der Rohe‘s Seagram Building, a 38-story skyscraper that is itself a classic of modern architecture. Ever since the Four Seasons opened in 1959, “Le Tricorne” has hung in the entryway, where it can be seen not only by patrons but by passers-by. The interior of the Four Seasons was designated as a landmark in 1989, meaning that it can’t be altered without official approval.
End of story…right? Not even close.
Because “Le Tricorne” is a painting, it’s not a physical part of the Seagram Building. So even though it’s now owned by the New York City Landmarks Conservancy, it’s not covered by the landmark designation—and Aby Rosen, a real-estate developer whose company, RFR Holding, owns the building, wants to move it. RFR is claiming that the wall on which “Le Tricorne” was hung by Johnson is in imminent danger of collapse and needs to be rebuilt. The Museum of Modern Art has offered to store “Le Tricorne” but not to display it, and art conservators believe that the painting, which is brittle, can’t be moved without destroying it.
According to the New York Times, Mr. Rosen, an art collector who goes in for avant-garde work, doesn’t like “Le Tricorne” and would prefer to hang pieces from his own collection in the space that it currently occupies. One person actually claims to have heard him dismiss the painting as a “schmatte,” which is Yiddish for “rag.” And since Mr. Rosen owns the Seagram Building, he’s legally entitled to demand that the Landmarks Conservancy remove “Le Tricorne,” even if it fails to survive.
Justice Matthew F. Cooper of the New York State Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction last Friday preventing RFR Holding from moving the painting, which had been scheduled to be taken down two days later, until the case can be heard on March 11. “I don’t want to be the judge who has a Picasso destroyed,” he said. And Belmont Freeman, an architect who worked on a 2008 restoration of the Four Seasons, published a piece in Architectural Record claiming that RFR Holding wasn’t telling the truth when it said that the wall could collapse…
- More than a rag (artsjournal.com)
- Rosen “dislike” for Four Seasons’ Picasso behind removal: suit (therealdeal.com)
- Judge Temporarily Bars Removal of Picasso Tapestry (nytimes.com)
- At Four Seasons, Picasso Tapestry Hangs on the Edge of Eviction (nytimes.com)
- An Enormous Work By Picasso At The Four Seasons Restaurant Is About To Be Destroyed (designntrend.com)
- Judge blocks removal of Picasso painting from the Four Seasons (therealdeal.com)
- Judge Stops Removal of Picasso Canvas at Four Seasons Until Further Review (artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Judge Blocks RFR’s Plans to Remove Picasso, at Least for Now (commercialobserver.com)
- Picasso work to stay in New York City restaurant, judge rules (triblive.com)
- Taking Down Picasso (nybooks.com)