N.Y. restaurant's fragile Picasso fate hangs in court

Wed Apr 2, 2014 2:56pm EDT
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By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The question of whether a fragile Picasso painting that covers a wall in New York City's Four Seasons Restaurant will crumble if taken down to allow repairs went before a state court judge on Wednesday.

The dispute between the restaurant's landlord and the painting's owner takes place in a grand setting: Midtown Manhattan's Seagram Building, the landmark International Style tower designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe that opened in 1958.

Real Estate developer Aby Rosen, who has owned the building since 2000, wants the Picasso taken down from its prominent space overlooking the rich and powerful who dine at the Four Seasons on the ground floor.

The 19-foot-high (5.8-meter-high) unframed painted theater curtain depicting figures overlooking a bullring has been displayed in a hallway between two dining rooms since the restaurant's 1959 opening, earning it the name "Picasso Alley."

The limestone wall on which it hangs has been damaged by moisture and steam from the kitchens on the other side, Andrew Kratenstein, a lawyer for Rosen, told the court.

An art handler hired by Rosen "was concerned it was more dangerous to leave (the painting) in place," Kratenstein said.

The New York Landmarks Conservancy, the non-profit preservationist group that was given ownership of the Picasso in 2005, argues that the wall is fine and removing the curtain risked ruining it and harming the restaurant's interior.

The conservancy's president Peg Breen called it the "iconic center" of the Four Seasons. "Philip Johnson didn't just say, 'We'll slap up a Picasso for a little while and see what else comes along,'" she said, referring to the restaurant's architect.   Continued...

A 19-by-20-foot theater curtain "Le Tricorne" painted by Pablo Picasso hangs at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City, April 1, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar