Can the largest Picasso in U.S. be taken down?

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Can the largest Picasso in U.S. be taken down?

NEW YORK - 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 19-by-20-foot 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 Corporation, 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.

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 $1.6 million, far short of the record-setting $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.’’


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