What Legs

Posted on 18 June 2008

Have you seen those legs yet? They’re hard to miss. Fifteen feet high and in full stride against the façade of Ruth Vered’s and Janet Lehr’s home (a former church) on the corner of Madison and Henry streets.

As a sculptural piece, the legs, which are by the late artist Larry Rivers, are quite famous. But as an accessory structure without a permit, the village says they’re a violation of village code.

This isn’t something the village has come up against very much, and we think it’s going to be very interesting to watch.

There was a case like this over in Southold a few years back in which the owners of a beachfront property erected a 40 foot steel heron in their backyard sans permit. That one went to court. The couple maintained it was art — and art, they argued, is different than a structure. Art, they said, doesn’t need a permit.

The courts didn’t agree. Ultimately, after a few years and a number of appeals, a judge ruled that as artistic as it may be, the two ton bird was, in fact, a structure. The steel heron had to go — at least until it got a building permit — which it did — and it returned, not as a structure, but as a monument which incidentally exempted it from height restrictions, no doubt to the chagrin of the neighbors.

So where does that leave our legs?

Given the fact they are striding through the historic district, perhaps in the hands of the ARB. But what parameters would a board use to make judgments on objects like this? Will the call be based on what members of the board think of the art personally? Whether it’s offensive or not, too bright, too weird, too modern, God forbid. Or maybe the decision will be based solely on a piece’s size, or the number of complaints it garners. Perhaps the methods of affixing a given work of art to either the ground or an existing building will be the parameter by which it is judged. Artistic birdhouses would surely be allowed…wouldn’t they?

Like we said, this is going to be very interesting to watch.

Do we feel that the ARB is equipped to begin making decisions about what constitutes art? At times, the members have difficulty agreeing on things directly related to architecture. What happens when art becomes architecture? How will any board make that call? The requiring of a permit may well put the legs within the purview of the ARB. Forget about windows and moldings, what will this board do when asked to make a judgment call about a set of 15-foot gams?

We can’t wait to find out.


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