Picasso’s Schmatte

Le Tricorne
Picasso’s Le Tricorne, 1919 “Le Tricorne” is not considered a masterpiece. The artist had been making Cubist works for about ten years before the theater piece was painted for Ballet Russes.

When the Seagram’s Building was being planned, Phyllis Lambert, the 27 year old daughter of the Seagram founder, Samuel Bronfman. was enlisted to take charge of design and construction. So she and Philip Johnson (co-architect along with Mies van der Rohe)  scouted out appropriate artwork for key display surfaces, including some in and around the swank new Four Seasons restaurant.

In Lambert’s opinionFour Seasons needed a Picasso, and she approached the artist with a commission for an original piece. But he declined, instead offering to put her in touch (through the MoMA’s Alfred Barr) with a Swiss Collector who owned a theater piece he had done in for Ballet Russes. The 19 x22′  piece cut from a scene for the ballet, Le Tricorne, was perfect for the hallway and the Bronfman’s bought it for $50,000.

It has been there since 1959 when it was first hung. Now, 55 years later, dry and frail, the old Picasso is about to be taken down from it’s place of honor and handed over to the mercies of storage and, many fear, inevitable destruction.

Back in 2002, when, then owners, Vivendi Universal, were seeking auction house estimates and planning to sell the Seagram Building along with the Bronfman art collection, Phillip Johnson told the New York Times,

“When Alfred Barr found the Picasso for us it fit perfectly. I consider it an integral part of the architecture. It’s also very delicate and could get damaged if it were moved.”

Shifting of the art was avoided when the building’s new owners, RFR holding, decided to keep the artwork in place. But now that the embattled painting is again threatened with displacement, some experts worry that the old material will “crack like a potato chip.”

What is more, alarms are sounding that the building’s owner would not much regret losing Le Tricorne. RFR chair, Aby Rosen, has been heard calling it a a “schmatte” and has given excuses for taking it down that range from a “steam leak” to “shifting wall tiles” while evading requests from New York Landmarks Conservancy”s Peg Breen to hand over the engineering reports.

NYLC, the current owners, have expressed suspicion, while Breen says Rosen told her he may not even put he piece back up after repairs since he’ll only have to move it again in a few years when further repairs are needed.

It is also rumored that Rosen has been scheming to bare the wall in order to show some of the contemporary work in his own collection, but a spokesman for RFR told The Daily Mail  that the piece will be reinstated after repairs.

Meantime, MoMA is offering to permanently store the Picasso if RFR does not put it back up.

According to plans, the Picasso comes down, in one piece or many,on Sunday (February 9).

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