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NOT FOR the first time, a brief news item has a lot more interest lurking beneath its few paragraphs. The item, appearing on CBS New York, September 6, 2014 (http://goo.gl/epXRAq), noted that Picasso’s Le Tricorne tapestry was going to be relocated because of wall renovations in New York City’s Four Seasons restaurant.
A little research suggests a controversy between art and commerce (but is it really?). There’s perhaps less than accurate reporting of the tapestry’s placement (with a good story attached) and some fascinating insights into the utility of art.
Picasso painted the water color as a theater curtain for Manuel de Falla’s ballet El Sombrero de Tres Picos (The Three-Cornered Hat) staged by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in 1919. The artist designed sets and costumes for this production as well. It’s said Picasso wore slippers while he walked across the 19 x 20-ft. surface during its Covent Garden, London, painting.
Diaghilev was a character larger than life, indeed, larger than Le Tricorne. (See http://wp.me/p2ETap-2iG for a fictional counterpart, impresario Vladimir Stroganoff in the Brahms and Simon mysteries.) During one of the Ballet Russes’ not infrequent cash crises, Diaghilev cut out the center of Le Tricorne and sold this bullfight portion to a Swiss art collector.
The work, even with its patched center section, is considered Picasso’s supreme theatrical achievement. He also designed productions of Eric Satie’s Parade, 1917, and Mercure, 1924; Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, 1920; Oedipus Tyrannus by Sophocles, 1947; and Arthur Honegger’s Icare, 1962.
An essay in Art and the Stage in the 20th Century observes that “Stravinsky, distrustful and skeptical by nature, conceded Picasso had ‘an exceptional feeling for the theater.’ ”
Robert Lepage (whose stunning Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera, 2012- 2013, was not without its own controversy) cited Picasso’s influence on theater: “As Picasso said, art lies in order to speak the truth more clearly.”
And so, apparently, can the news lie for a better story. Several reports implied that diners at New York’s famed Four Seasons restaurant would no longer be able to enjoy their steaks while admiring Picasso’s work.
The fact is, they never could. Ever since its installation in 1959, Le Tricorne has resided in what came to be known as Picasso’s Alley, a hall in the city’s Seagram Building that leads to the Four Seasons dining rooms. The work is not visible to diners.
The back story: Phyllis Lambert, philanthropist and Seagram heiress, had a hand in the 1957 acquisition of Le Tricorne. “At first we considered the dining room,” she said, “but the curtain shows two horses dragging a dead bull out of a ring and that didn’t seem like the right image for a roomful of people eating steak.”
To some, the removal of Le Tricorne for building renovation is old news. The Seagram Building is owned by RFR Holding, and RFR’s Aby Rosen knew that a weakness in the wall structure of Picasso Alley needed attention. Back in February 2014, a New York court ruled in favor of the New York Landmarks Conservancy in delaying movement of Le Tricorne. This was based on the work’s fragility, apparently ignoring the possibility of a wall failure taking Le Tricorne with it.
Adding to the controversy, RFR’s Rosen referred to the Picasso as merely shmatte, Yiddish for “a rag.”
Was this simply rude commerce versus high art?
Not exactly, because Rosen is a noted collector of modern and contemporary art. Indeed, he’s the chairman of the New York State Council on the Arts.
In time, Le Tricorne will be on display at the New-York Historical Society. Its removal started Sunday, September 7, shortly after 12 a.m. Eastern Time. The painting was rolled into a foam-covered cardboard tube, 20 ft. long and 2 ft. in diameter, riding in a specially built steel cradle. It’s being trucked to the Williamstown Art Conservation Centre in Massachusetts for cleaning and repair.
RFR is picking up the bill. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014