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Belmont Freeman: Commentary on Needless Destruction

by Belmont Freeman, FAIA | Feb 07, 2014

Citing specious dangers, the Seagram Building’s owner aims to remove a Picasso—and with it a piece of New York social history—this weekend.

By Belmont Freeman, FAIA
February 6, 2014

Editor's Note: Since the original publication of this commentary, the New York Landmarks Conservancy has filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to bar the removal of the Picasso described below from the Four Seasons restaurant.

I was startled to read in the New York Times about the plan to remove Picasso’s large curtain, Le Tricorne (1919), from the landmarked Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York. The reason, according to current owner RFR Holding, is the imminent failure of the travertine-clad wall against which the 19-foot-high curtain, originally painted as a backdrop for a Diaghilev ballet, is mounted. I was aghast—and surprised, as I am very familiar with this wall.

In 2008, my firm was hired as the architect for an ongoing restoration of the Four Seasons, at the recommendation of Phyllis Lambert, architect and daughter of the original client for the Seagram, Samuel Bronfman. Our work began with a thorough evaluation of existing conditions and an inventory of elements in the Philip Johnson-designed restaurant that needed attention. The travertine wall panels in "Picasso Alley," the elegant glassed-in passageway connecting the Grill Room and the Pool Room where the Picasso hangs, were not on the list of problems. Sure, some of the stone has shifted slightly out of alignment, as it has in the Seagram lobby generally (unremarkable after 50 years), but not to a degree that caused alarm.

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