Art objects have always existed in a somewhat gray area when it comes to matters of taste, to say nothing of municipal zoning. What one person views as a masterpiece, another could claim assaults their eyes. And when subjective taste is involved in crafting or enforcing everything from village code to federal decency standards, it becomes a slippery slope indeed.
For example, here in Sag Harbor we have a 15-foot pair of female legs firmly planted alongside Ruth Vered and Janet Lehr’s Madison Street home. The Larry Rivers sculpture has created something of a stir in the neighborhood, with some people loving it and others hating it.
Apparently one member of the Sag Harbor ARB is in the latter category. When Vered and Lehr came before the ARB this week to get approval for exterior paint color and permission to make needed repairs on their home, ARB member Tom Horn, Sr. abstained from casting the deciding vote on the issue at hand because he doesn’t happen to like the gams.
To be fair, Vered and Lehr were told two years ago they needed to get a building permit for the legs, and have thus far failed to do so. And while the exact nature of Horn’s aversion to the legs is unclear, aesthetics is clearly an issue. Perhaps he deems them too large and out of character with the shrubbery and urns at neighboring properties. Or perhaps he feels those shapely limbs might pollute the minds of Sag Harbor’s youth. Or maybe he’s just afraid they might take a tumble on a windy day and crush a passerby — now that might be a legitimate concern, and one we assume a building permit is designed to prevent.
We do know one thing. Horn’s abstention from voting on a legitimate application because he doesn’t happen to like what’s in the yard is inappropriate. Have Vered and Lehr ignored the law that requires them to get a building permit for the structure? Yes. But in that case, it’s up to village code enforcement to pursue the matter. It is unfair for one person to hold up needed repairs and a paint job because of art. By this rationale, should we let the village’s historic homes fall into disrepair because we don’t happen to like what’s on the lawn? If the legs weren’t there would Horn have approved the application?
We completely agree with ARB member Diane Schiavoni who said the legs are a separate issue. They are indeed.
As far as we’re concerned, the legs are a recognizable piece of art by a celebrated internationally renown (and now deceased) American artist. Irregardless of their provenance, freedom of expression should be allowed in this capacity — with a building permit, of course. So we say “Let Larry’s legs stand” (or stride, which is a more accurate description of what they’re doing).