US eatery sued over plan to move Picasso painting


By Jennifer Peltz, New York City AP

New York’s storied Four Seasons restaurant has for decades harbored one of the city’s more unusual artworks: the largest Pablo Picasso painting in the United States. But a plan to move it has touched off a spat as sharply drawn as the bullfight crowd the canvas depicts.

Pitting a prominent preservation group against an art-loving real estate magnate, the dispute has unleashed an outcry from culture commentators and a lawsuit featuring dueling squads of art experts.

The building’s owner says Picasso’s “Le Tricorne,” a 5.8-by-6.1-meter painted stage curtain, has to be moved from the restaurant to make way for repairs to the wall behind it.

But the Landmarks Conservancy, a nonprofit that owns the curtain, is suing to stop the move. The group says the wall damage isn’t dire and taking down the brittle curtain could destroy it — and, with it, an integral aspect of the Four Seasons’ landmarked interior.

“We’re just trying to do our duty and trying to keep a lovely interior landmark intact,” says Peg Breen, president of the conservancy.

The landlord, RFR Holding Corp., a company co-founded by state Council on the Arts Chairman Aby Rosen, says a structural necessity is being spun into an art crusade.

“This case is not about Picasso,” RFR lawyer Andrew Kratenstein said in court papers. Rather, he wrote, it is about whether an art owner can insist that a private landlord hang a work indefinitely, the building’s needs be damned. “The answer to that question is plainly no.”

Picasso painted the curtain in 1919 as a set piece for “Le Tricorne,” or “three-cornered hat,” a ballet created by the Paris-based Ballet Russes troupe.

The curtain isn’t considered a masterwork. Breen said it was appraised in 2008 at US$1.6 million, far short of the record-setting US$106.5 million sale of a 1932 Picasso painting at a 2010 auction.

Still, “it was always considered one of the major pieces of Picasso’s theatrical decor,” says Picasso biographer Sir John Richardson. “And it is sort of a gorgeous image.”

The scene depicts spectators in elegant Spanish dress socializing and watching a boy sell pomegranates as horses drag a dead bull from the ring in the background.