The dispute between the restaurant's landlord and the painting's
owner takes place in a grand setting: The Seagram Building, the
influential masterpiece of International Style corporate
architecture designed by Mies van der Rohe.
Aby Rosen, the real estate developer who has owned the Seagram
Building since 2000, wants the Picasso taken down from its prominent
mount amid the rich and powerful who dine at the Four Seasons on the
skyscraper's ground floor.
The 19-foot-high (5.8-meter-high) unframed painted theater curtain
depicting figures overlooking a bullring has hung in the hallway
between two dining rooms since the restaurant's 1959 opening,
earning the hallway the nickname "Picasso Alley."
Rosen contends the wall on which it hangs has been damaged by
moisture and steam from the kitchens on the other side, according to
papers filed with the state supreme court in Manhattan. Without
repairs, the painting itself is in jeopardy, he contends.
The New York Landmarks Conservancy, the non-profit preservationist
group that owns the Picasso, argues the wall is fine and that
removing the painting risked destroying it and harming the
restaurant's landmarked interior. The conservancy was bequeathed the
Picasso in 2005 by Vivendi Universal, which had acquired the
painting a few years earlier.
Peg Breen, the conservancy's president, said in an interview that
the painting was the "iconic center" of the Four Seasons.
"It's considered one of the loveliest interior landmarks in America
and it's all worked together; it's all of a piece," she said.
Referring to the restaurant's architect, she added, "Philip Johnson
didn't just say, 'We'll slap up a Picasso for a little while and
we'll see what else comes along.'"
The conservancy, which won a temporary injunction a few days before
Rosen's movers were due to arrive in February, said Rosen is
exaggerating the wall's condition out of a dislike for the painting.
"Mr. Rosen has previously referred to the Picasso curtain as a
'schmatte,' the Yiddish word for rag," the conservancy said in a
court filing. Rosen has not said if he wants the Picasso to be
returned to its old spot if it is removed.
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Rosen, who is also a prominent collector of modern and contemporary
art, did not respond to interview requests, but has previously said
he has several Picasso works in his home.
Both sides have dispatched engineers and experts to view the wall.
Only those sent by Rosen have found the condition of the wall to be
Even an art mover retained by Rosen conceded the curtain could
"crack like a potato chip," the conservancy said.
The city designated the Seagram Building and the interior of the
Four Seasons protected landmarks in 1989, although the Picasso is
explicitly excluded from that designation.
Rosen's lawyers say he has no obligation to house someone else's
painting in his building indefinitely.
Pablo Picasso painted the curtain in 1919 for Sergei Diaghilev's
Ballets Russes as part of his designs for the sets for the London
premiere of Le Tricorne.
It is not clear when State Supreme Court Judge Carol Edmead will
rule on the conservancy's plea for a permanent injunction against
the painting's removal after Wednesday's hearing. Owners of the Four
Seasons did not respond to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; editing by Scott Malone and Richard
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