Settlement Reached: Picasso Curtain to Move to New-York Historical Society and Remain on Public View
Picasso Curtain -photo: Michael Appleton for The New York Times
Conservator Gretchen Guidess at Williamstown Art Conservation Center
UPDATE: November 25, 2014
Picasso Curtain Update: Cleaning and Restoration
The Picasso Curtain is getting a “little work done” to look its best when it returns to public view at the New-York Historical Society in the spring.
The Williamstown Art Conservation Center in Williamstown, Massachusetts is working on the large, 1919 artwork. Center Director Thomas Branchick said the Curtain is “in excellent structural condition.” Conservators are carefully cleaning the Curtain, repairing minor surface tears, and correcting some overpainting, which was done in the 1970s.
The Conservancy had an experienced conservator do surface cleaning on the front of the Curtain after it was given to us in 2005. But the back has not been able to be cleaned since it was rehung in the Four Seasons after extensive conservation work in the 1970s.
Picasso painted “Le Tricorne” as a curtain for the Ballets Russes. It depicts his then wife, Olga, who was a ballerina with the company. And art historians consider the man peering over Olga’s shoulder in the painting to be Picasso himself. At 20’x19’ it is the largest Picasso artwork in America and one of only three Picasso ballet curtains extant.
The Curtain was purchased specifically for the Four Seasons by architect Philip Johnson, and his client, Phyllis Lambert. Lambert was the driving force behind hiring both Johnson and Mies van der Rohe for the project. The Seagram lobby was designed so that the Curtain could be seen from the lobby, the building Plaza and even from the street. Both the building and restaurant rooms are landmarked. But the Curtain was not part of the designation.
After a legal battle, the Conservancy reached a settlement agreement earlier this year with the current Seagram Building owner to remove the Curtain. The owner agreed to pay for the removal, conservation work and move to its new home in The New-York Historical Society. The Conservancy is giving the Curtain to the Society so that it can remain on public view as “New York’s Picasso.” The Society is planning to exhibit it this coming spring.
September 8, 2014
Picasso Curtain Carefully and Successfully Moved
During the weekend of September 7 Picasso’s “Le Tricorne” was successfully removed from the Four Seasons restaurant. Bravo to Lead Technician Tom Zoufaly of Art Installation Design and his staff and the great team from Auer’s Rigging & Moving. They moved the largest Picasso artwork in the country in an intricate 12-hour operation. It’s the end of an era. The 20-foot high Curtain has been the centerpiece of the Four Seasons restaurant since 1959. But it is also the beginning of a new era for this important artwork.
The New York Times did a nice job documenting the entire nerve-racking process. Learn more about the removal and see the crew at work.
The 95-year-old curtain is now at The Williamstown Art Conservation Center in Williamstown, MA. for some minor conservation and cleaning. It will then go to it’s new home at the New-York Historical Society where even more people will be able to enjoy “New York’s Picasso.”
August 25, 2014
Picasso On The Move
The Picasso Curtain is scheduled to be moved from the Four Seasons Restaurant on September 6 and 7—the first step toward its new home in The New-York Historical Society.
The elaborate move will involve some twenty experts from both Art Installation Design and Auer’s Rigging. Both companies have wide experience moving artwork for museums and private collectors.
The team will arrive at the restaurant closes on September 6. It will take about six hours to construct the scaffolding and rigging needed to handle the 20 by 18 foot Curtain. Then the Curtain will be very slowly and carefully rolled around a large, 24-inch diameter, specially designed, roller. This will take several more hours.
The Curtain will then be taken to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center in Williamstown, Mass. The respected Center has the expertise, and the space, required to handle this large and important piece. The Curtain will be cleaned and some minor surface tears repaired. We don’t expect any major work to be performed unless the conservators discover something when they inspect the Curtain.
Once conservation is completed, the Curtain will be taken to the Historical Society. It will be placed on public view next spring. Its new location will allow many more people to see “New York’s Picasso.”
The 1919 piece has hung in the Four Seasons since the restaurant opened in 1959. It has not been moved since the 1970s when it was temporarily taken down for comprehensive conservation. A backing was placed on the piece at that time which has held the weight of the Curtain but added some stiffness to the canvas surface.
The Curtain’s age and size make the upcoming move very tricky. In addition to the expert movers, Sarah Lowengard, the conservator who has cared for the Curtain since it was given to the Conservancy in 2005 will be on hand. She will be joined by the chief conservator of the Historical Society. Peg Breen and Conservancy Technical Director Alex Herrera will also be there.
The move was agreed to in a settlement after a very public legal battle over the Curtain. Under the terms of the settlement, RFR Holding, the owner of the Seagram Building where the Four Seasons is located, is paying for the conservation and both moves.
The Conservancy is very grateful to our board member Michael DeChiara and his partner James Rowland who represented us in Court and continue to offer advice and counsel.
Settlement Reached: June 12, 2014
The Landmarks Conservancy has reached a settlement agreement with Aby Rosen, owner of the Seagram Building, that will end our legal battle and place the Picasso Curtain in a new home at The New-York Historical Society— where it will be seen by an even wider segment of the public.
Vivendi, the company that once owned the Seagram Building, gave the 1919 artwork to the Conservancy in 2005 as a “gift to the City” with the caveat that the Conservancy maintain it in place within the Four Seasons Restaurant where it has hung since the restaurant opened in 1959. The restaurant, designed architect Philip Johnson, is considered one of the loveliest interior landmarks in the country and the Curtain has been its centerpiece.
We did our best to maintain it in place. But our only leverage was that the Curtain is specifically included in the current restaurant lease. It was made clear to us that the Curtain would not be included in whatever new lease is negotiated. So, if we had prevailed in Court, the most a judge could grant is that the Curtain stay until the end of the current lease.
Under the settlement, Mr. Rosen will pay for the Curtain’s removal, any conservation required, and for the move to the Historical Society. That is a great help. The Historical Society, under the able leadership of its President and CEO Louise Mirrer, will provide a wonderful home. We have engaged an excellent art moving company and are in the process of selecting a New York City based conservator.
The move will be complicated and our concerns about moving the artwork remain. The Curtain is large—20 feet by 20 feet—and heavy. The canvas material is also brittle. There is the possibility of some damage no matter how careful the move. But we will have conservators on hand—and the Curtain will be taken for conservation—so this is the best chance to move it safely.
Our longtime conservator, Sarah Lowengard, has taken excellent care of the Curtain through the years. We have been assisted recently by a volunteer group of conservators from the American Institute for Conservation chaired by AIC Vice-President Margaret Holben Ellis. The group includes Jim Coddington, Paul Himmelstein, Pete Omlor, Edmund Meade and Matthew Skopek. We are very grateful for their input.
Conservancy Board Member Michael DeChiara of Zetlin and DeChiara, and his partner James H. Rowland, provided invaluable legal help. We will always be thankful for the enormous amount of time they devoted to this and for their guidance.
Conservancy Advisory Board Member Jennifer Franklin helped fashion our agreement with the Historical Society.
Our quest to save the Curtain garnered national and international publicity and wide support from art experts and writers. The settlement ensures that this now beloved work will be available to the public for the foreseeable future.
Update: April 29, 2014
Judge Carol Edmead of State Supreme Court issued an interim order on April 28 adjourning the proceedings on the Picasso Curtain until June 25 with the consent of both parties. Both sides are discussing a possible agreement.
From March 28, 2014
The Conservancy will be in State Supreme Court this coming Wednesday seeking to keep the Picasso Curtain in place at the Four Seasons Restaurant, where it has hung since the landmark establishment opened in 1959.
We have been delighted by the wide support for our effort. Art and architecture critics, prominent architects and philanthropists, the Editorial Board of The New York Times have all voiced support for leaving the Picasso where it is. More than 300 persons signed a petition to keep it in place as well. The battle has generated national and international press.
The Conservancy won a temporary restraining order on February 7, preventing the owner of the Seagram Building from removing the Curtain, as he hoped to do, on February 9. State Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper granted the TRO and said he considered the Picasso part of the City’s cultural heritage.
Picasso painted “Le Tricorne” for the Ballets Russes in 1919. It is the largest Picasso painting in America and considered an important work by the artist. Architect Philip Johnson selected the 19’ by 20’ Curtain especially for the restaurant he designed. It was given to the Conservancy in 2005.
Developer Aby Rosen, who owns the Seagram Building, wants to display pieces from his contemporary art collection in “Picasso Alley,” the large corridor between the Grill and Pool Rooms at the restaurant where the Curtain hangs.
The Four Seasons is considered one of the loveliest interior landmarks in the country and the Curtain, while not itself designated, has always been the iconic centerpiece of the restaurant. It is visible from the lobby and the street.
Prominent engineers we engaged dismissed two separate “building emergencies” that supposedly required the Curtain to be removed. There was no “steam pipe leak” and the wall adjacent to the Curtain is in no danger of failing. We have several prominent art conservators who have countered the latest claim—that the Curtain needs to be removed to be restored. Most conservators agree that the Curtain is stable and fine where it is, while moving it would likely cause damage. The Curtain would need to be carefully rolled onto a 20-foot long cylinder. A backing put on the Curtain in the 1970s has held the weight of the piece, but has stiffened it, making rolling it hazardous. The paint might flake off or the fabric tear in the process.
The Conservancy was given the Curtain with the charge of keeping it in place and maintaining it as a gift to the City. That is what we are fighting to do.
Picasso Story Goes Global
Update: February 28, 2014
The Conservancy’s battle to keep Pablo Picasso’s great theatrical work “Le Tricorne,” in its rightful place within the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building has generated wide press and even wider public support here and across the country. But it is also making international news.
Not surprisingly, Spanish publications such as “artemagazine,” “EL MUNDO,” and “elEconomista.es” are covering the story. But others, such as “America Oggi,” the Italian language newspaper, and Britain’s “Daily Mail” are covering the story as well.
This past Sunday, The New York Times Editorial Board strongly endorsed our efforts. They stated, in part, “the survival of a Picasso, even a semipublic one, should concern everybody” and concluded: “The far better outcome would be for the curtain to stay where Philip Johnson put it, where it belongs.”
Picasso created the 19 by 20 foot Curtain in 1919 for the Ballets Russes. Architect Philip Johnson, who designed the Four Seasons space, placed the Curtain on the wall that connects the restaurant’s two dining rooms in 1959, intended it as a permanent feature. The hallway where it hangs is known as “Picasso Alley.” Both the Restaurant and Seagram Building have used the Curtain as their iconic symbol. The building and the restaurant are both landmarked.
The Curtain is visible from the Seagram Lobby and Park Avenue and has been part of the City’s cultural heritage for more than half a century.
Aby Rosen, who owns the Seagram Building, claims the Curtain must be removed to repair travertine panels in “Picasso Alley.” Two respected engineering firms the Conservancy engaged, dispute the claim, as does the architect who has done extensive restoration at the Restaurant.
The Conservancy won a Temporary Restraining Order in State Supreme Court on February 7 that stopped Rosen from removing the Curtain until a full court hearing. That hearing was pushed back this week from March 11 until April 2.
Picasso Stays in Place for Now After Court Win
Update: February 10, 2014
We were delighted to win a temporary restraining order in State Supreme Court last Friday that prevented yesterday’s scheduled removal of the Picasso Curtain from the Four Seasons Restaurant. Judge Matthew Cooper called the Curtain “part of the City’s cultural heritage” and “irreplaceable.” He shot down an argument from an attorney for Seagram Building owner Aby Rosen who said the Landmarks Conservancy had no claim to damages if the Curtain was destroyed in the move because “If we break it, we buy it.” Curators and art moving companies have all said the best thing is to leave the Curtain where it has been for fifty years because moving the giant 19’ by 19’ artwork could cause it to crack and break.
The Landmarks Conservancy’s mission is to preserve our historic built environment. The curtain is the largest Picasso artwork in the country and an integral part of a heralded interior landmark—the Four Seasons Restaurant. That is why it was entrusted to our care in 2005, and why we are fighting to keep it there, in public, on view for all New Yorkers.
New York Times Article – Picasso Curtain Threatened
The New York Times story from February 4, 2014 details the Conservancy’s efforts to protect the Picasso Curtain, which hangs in the Four Seasons Restaurant. The Curtain is the largest Picasso artwork in America and the iconic centerpiece of the Restaurant—one of the loveliest interior landmarks in the country.
The New York Times – February 4, 2014
CLICK HERE – At Four Seasons, Picasso Tapestry Hangs on the Edge of Eviction
By David Segal
The then owners of the landmark Seagram Building gave the Curtain to the Conservancy in 2005 with the understanding that we would keep it in place. We have had a conservator regularly inspect and clean it since. Now, in response to a concern that the wall where it hangs needs repair, two engineers reports conclude that there is no structural reason to move the Curtain. Three professional art-moving firms have all said that—despite their best efforts—moving could damage the Curtain.
This is a large, 19’ by 20’ canvas created for the Ballets Russes in 1919, which has hung in the Restaurant since it opened in 1959. It was specifically purchased for the Restaurant. A backing installed before we received it has stiffened the Curtain. It cannot be folded. Moving it would require slowly and carefully rolling it around a giant cylinder.
Both engineering firms said that, since minor displacement of the wall occurred some time ago and poses no threat to the Curtain, the logical move would be to install monitors to determine if any new movement occurs. The Conservancy has offered to pay for this monitoring. Removal of the Curtain would be, in effect, a loss of public art and break the proud legacy of the Seagram Building—which the Bronfman family built and viewed as a gift to the City.
Our thanks to all of you who have written to ask that the Picasso Curtain remain at the Four Seasons Restaurant. One writer was told that the Conservancy has neglected the Curtain and that it has to be removed to be conserved. That is not correct. This is the third reason given for removing the Curtain.
We have had a respected textile conservator, Sarah Lowengard, regularly care for the curtain since shortly after we received it in 2005. The deed of gift asked that we keep it in place. We intend to do that.
When Ms. Lowengard first examined the curtain, she researched its history and prior conservation, and discussed the Curtain with other conservators who had worked on it. At that time, a Kunstalle in Frankfurt Germany was interested in exhibiting the Curtain. She advised against moving the Curtain then to avoid damage. She says it should not be moved now for the same reason.
The Curtain has age-related issues. In the 1970s the back of the Curtain was lined. Ms. Lowengard’s initial report notes that the canvas is brittle: “..an unavoidable characteristic of the material as it dries out, oxidizes or becomes more acidic. It is unlikely that (past) surface treatments reversed or even stopped that damage. So folding or rolling the textile would place the original materials at risk of cracking or splitting.”
During a two-day cleaning of the Curtain in 2008, Ms. Lowenstein inspected the artwork inch by inch. She noted some tears and patches that she believed occurred before the 1970s conservation. She said the these were “well managed by the lining—these are not active tears.”
She reported again this week that: “ The best way to preserve the curtain is to maintain it in place. Removal from the space will almost certainly cause breaks and cracks to the canvas and probably losses in the paint layer as well.”
Yesterday, conservators from Julius Lowy Frame and Restoring Company also examined the Curtain. In a letter to the Conservancy, Larry Shar, President of Lowy, noted the brittleness. “it is, therefore, our opinion that the painting is best left on the wall undisturbed.” If it had to be moved, Mr. Shar said a multi-step process that would take 7-8 working days is required to minimize any damage. The Curtain is scheduled to be moved this coming Sunday. With the restaurant scheduled to resume operations on Monday morning—a matter of hours, not days.
The company hired to move the Curtain this weekend told us it could “crack like a potato chip.”
We have two separate engineering reports that conclude there is no structural reason to move the Curtain. There is every reason to keep it as the iconic heart of one of the loveliest interior landmark spaces in the Country.
The Picasso is visible from the lobby of the Seagram Building. It has been used in promotions for the building and the restaurant. It was always intended as public art that New Yorkers should enjoy. It’s your Picasso. That’s why we’re working to save it.