Tag Archive | "Larry Rivers"

“Legs” Suit Refiled Against Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals; Charges Chairwoman Bias

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In an amended petition against the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), Janet Lehr and Ruth Vered have charged that an April 2012 decision by the ZBA to not grant them relief to keep Larry Rivers’ sculpture “Legs” erected next to their Madison Street home should be vacated by a court. They say the reason is because the board’s chairwoman, Gayle Pickering, had a conflict of interest in deciding the case.

On Monday, October 1, the Village of Sag Harbor was furnished with an amended version of an article 78 originally filed in June by the women, who own and manage Vered Modern and Contemporary Art in East Hampton, by their Sag Harbor attorney, Stephen A. Grossman.

In April, the ZBA denied the couple’s application to legalize the 16-foot sculpture, erected in a planter next to their home just one-foot away from the property line.

According to Sag Harbor Village Building Inspector Tim Platt, the “Legs” are viewed as a “structure” under the village code. There is no provision exempting art from village law and as a structure Lehr and Vered needed four variances, including one that would allow an accessory structure one foot from the property line where 35 feet is required.

In their decision the ZBA noted that allowing a structure a foot from the property line was not a precedent they wished to set and that neighbors “vehemently” opposed the application.

The decision also states the location of the structure in the historic district is “contrary to the goals of the village to preserve and protect historic character” and that Lehr and Vered have other alternatives in how they display the sculpture.

According to a copy of the amended petition, among other reasons, the suit charges that Pickering failed to disclose that she had a conflict of interest in the case, namely that she had allegedly — several years prior to being the chairwoman of the ZBA — applied to have her artwork shown at the Vered Gallery and was rejected.

Pickering is an architect and artist with her own company, Pickering Architects.

“The fact that the Chair was responsible for the conduct of these hearings and led discussions and deliberations by the board with respect to this application and a previous related application in 2010 and cast a positive vote for the board’s decision herein, the entire proceeding was tainted and the decision should be thrown out,” states the suit.

On Tuesday, Pickering flatly denied even the appearance of a conflict of interest, stating the only time she has even shown her work since many years ago at the Pamela Topping Gallery in East Hampton — with a piece bought by fellow Sag Harbor resident Bea Alda — was this past summer at the Art by Architects exhibit at the Southampton Historical Society.

“That was the first show I have done,” said Pickering, calling the allegations “patently untrue.”

“I am flattered they would even think I would want to be shown in Vered’s gallery, but no, it is not true,” she said.

The suit also alleges the board did not make a “reasonable” determination taking into account the full record of the case, which included scores of artists begging the board to exempt the work as a piece of art rather than a structure — a request denied by the board which said it did not have the power to legislate what art is defined as.

In the meantime, the “Legs” sculpture will remain at Lehr and Vered’s home — the former Bethel Baptist Church at the corner of Henry and Madison streets — while the case is battled out in the New York Supreme Court.

Rivers “Legs” Will Remain in Sag Harbor as Court Case Continues

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By Kathryn G. Menu; Photography by Gavin Menu

You might call it a stay of artistic execution.

This week, Sag Harbor village attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. said the Village of Sag Harbor would not cite Janet Lehr and Ruth Vered for keeping the Larry Rivers’ “Legs,” planted in a thin strip of property next to their Madison Street home until a court decides the sculpture’s fate.

In June, Lehr and Vered filed an article 78 lawsuit against the Village of Sag Harbor’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) contesting that board’s April decision to not grant Lehr and Vered variances, relief needed to legalize the 16-foot sculpture, which was erected next to their home in 2008.

It was in 2008 that village officials ruled Lehr and Vered needed a building permit to display “Legs” alongside their home, the former Bethel Baptist Church on Madison Street in the historic district of Sag Harbor. For almost two years the “Legs” went unnoticed. Then a member of the village’s historic preservation and architectural review board (ARB) pursued the matter after Vered applied to that board for a certificate of occupancy to repaint the historic residence.

According to Sag Harbor Village Building Inspector Tim Platt, the “Legs” are viewed as a “structure” under the village code. There is no provision exempting art from village law and as a structure Lehr and Vered needed four variances, including one that would allow an accessory structure one foot from the property line where 35 feet is required.

The ZBA refused to entertain any arguments that the “Legs” should be exempt from the code as it is art, noting it did not believe art should be legislated. Their decision also noted allowing a structure a foot from the property line was not a precedent they wished to set and that neighbors “vehemently” opposed the application.

The decision also states the location of the proposed structure in the historic district is “contrary to the goals of the village to preserve and protect historic character” and that Lehr and Vered have other alternatives in how they display the sculpture.

The board did agree to allow Lehr and Vered to keep the “Legs” through the summer, until September 15. However, it stipulated Lehr and Vered must remove nighttime lighting as it was one of the issues neighbors have with the sculpture.

In June, Lehr and Vered sued the ZBA, calling their decision unreasonable and one made without taking into account the full record amassed during a two-year battle in front of the village boards.

Because the case is ongoing, said Thiele in an interview this week, the village will not pursue requiring Lehr and Vered meet that September 15 deadline to remove the “Legs.” However, Thiele said the women, who own and manage Vered Modern and Contemporary Art, have ceased lighting the sculpture.

“I think where we are is that they will be allowed to remain, pending the outcome of the litigation,” said Thiele noting the practice is fairly common.

Thiele said currently the Village of Sag Harbor is working on a legal brief for the court and hoped between now and the end of the year a judge in the New York Supreme Court will have ruled on the case.

Thiele added that in an article 78 lawsuit, the court only considers whether or not there was a rational basis for a determination by examining the court record.

If either side is unhappy with the court’s decision, said Thiele, they will have the opportunity to appeal that decision in the appellate court system.”

Graffiti Whales Descend on Sag Harbor Village

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By Kathryn G. Menu; Photography by Michael Heller, Kathryn G. Menu & Penelope Hope

A rash of graffiti was reported last week to village police, the tags bearing an image most people associate with Sag Harbor — a whale.

According to Sag Harbor Village Police, the department has received a total of five reports of the friendly, smiling whale being tagged on buildings throughout the village.

On Sunday, September 2, the John Jermain Memorial Library (JJML) on Main Street was defaced with four whales — in neon shades of pink, blue, green and yellow — on plastic sheeting along the scaffolding above the front entrance of the historic library.

The library is in the process of a multi-million renovation and expansion and contractors just recently finished a laborious (and expensive) restoration of the brickwork, mortar and limestone cornice, according to JJML Director Catherine Creedon.

On September 5, a neon blue and green whale, smiling broadly, was discovered on the rear of Apple Bank’s Main Street building. The same day, a neon green whale was found painted beneath the now infamous Larry Rivers’ “Legs” sculpture on the side of Ruth Vered and Janet Lehr’s Madison Street home, although it was quickly painted over.

Not even religious institutions were safe, as the caretaker of the Sag Harbor Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church discovered on the morning of September 8. A more crudely drawn outline of a blue whale was discovered on the west side of the church building facing the Old Burying Ground.

The same day, a white and blue whale was found on the Schiavoni building on Jermain Avenue — that building has been the subject of several tags over the years, according to Sag Harbor Village Police Sergeant Paul Fabiano. Along with that whale was the tag reported last week by police that reads “freedumb.”

All of the whales were painted between two-to-three feet in height with a length of five-to-six feet.

According to Creedon, whose library was the first victim of the graffiti spree, her first concern is for the safety of the artist who had to scale scaffolding and actually move it around in order to accomplish all four whales at JJML.

“The whales were actually installed outside the scaffolding railings,” said Creedon. “My fear is we are going to end up with a local kid who is hurt or injured trying to do something like this.”

Creedon said in addition to a security system at the library, both contractors and police have agreed to increase patrols around the library.

“The community has entrusted us with restoring a building that is a symbol of Sag Harbor and its history,” added Creedon. “We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on restoring the exterior of the original building.”

Creedon said while the graffiti ultimately did not damage the building, if the paint had gotten through the plastic sheeting, the chemicals needed to clean spray paint off the historic brick would degrade that material, a costly and precious loss, she said.

According to Sergeant Fabiano, the department is looking at the tags of graffiti artists they have nabbed in the past, as well as tags found by police departments outside of Sag Harbor.

Sergeant Fabiano said most graffiti work does occur overnight and in this case he expects it could be more than one individual responsible for the unapproved art.

If someone is collared for the graffiti whales in Sag Harbor, Sergeant Fabiano said he or she could face a misdemeanor charge of making graffiti for each defacing. Graffiti made on private property can also carry a charge of trespassing and if someone enters a building there could even be charges of burglary, he said.

Sergeant Fabiano asked that anyone with information about the graffiti contact Sag Harbor Village Police at 725-0247. All calls will be kept confidential.

“And maybe we can put this person or these people to work in the village doing some decent artwork that is approved,” he said.

Lehr & Vered Sue Sag Harbor Village Over “Legs” Sculpture

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Heller_Vered Legs Sculpture Illuminated at Night 6-18-12_5447

When Janet Lehr and Ruth Vered revived their battle in 2010 to keep Larry Rivers’ sculpture, “Legs,” planted next to their home on Madison Street in Sag Harbor, anyone who knew the proprietors of East Hampton’s Vered Art Gallery knew they would not give up a fight to defend what they view as their right to display art.

Earlier this month, they proved just that.

On June 5, Lehr and Vered’s attorney, Stephen Grossman, filed an Article 78 against the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals contesting that board’s April decision to not grant Lehr and Vered variances. Those variances were needed to legalize the 16-foot sculpture, which was erected next to their home in 2008.

It was in 2008 that village officials ruled Lehr and Vered needed a building permit to display “Legs”  alongside their home, the former Bethel Baptist Church on Madison Street in the historic district of Sag Harbor. For almost two years the “Legs” went unnoticed. Then a member of the village’s historic preservation and architectural review board (ARB) pursued the matter after Vered applied to that board for a certificate of occupancy to repaint the historic residence.

According to Sag Harbor Village Building Inspector Tim Platt, the “Legs” are viewed as a “structure” under the village code. There is no provision exempting art from village law and as a structure Lehr and Vered needed four variances, including one that would allow an accessory structure one-foot from the property line where 35-feet is required.

In its decision, the zoning board of appeals cited a Southold court case Miller vs. Price, where that town decided a sculpture of a heron needed a building permit. The town was sued but the decision was ultimately supported on the appellate level of the State Supreme Court.

The ZBA refused to entertain any arguments that the “Legs” should be exempt from the code as it is art, noting it did not believe art should be legislated. Their decision also noted allowing a structure a foot from the property line was not a precedent they wished to set and that neighbors “vehemently” apposed the application.

The decision also states the location of the proposed structure in the historic district is “contrary to the goals of the village to preserve and protect historic character” and that Lehr and Vered have other alternatives in how they display the sculpture.

The board did agree to allow Lehr and Vered to keep the “Legs” through the summer, until September 15, however, it stipulated Lehr and Vered must remove nighttime lighting as it was one of the issues neighbors have with the sculpture.

While the decision was levied in April, as of this week, the sculpture still remained lit at night, although on Monday, Sag Harbor Village Attorney Denise Schoen said the building department was in the process of filing charges regarding the lights.

When those charges would actually be levied, Schoen was unsure.

In Lehr and Vered’s lawsuit, Grossman argues the village cited the case of Miller vs. Price in error, as that case had less to do with a municipality defining art as a “structure” and more to do with a plaintiff failing to exhaust all other remedies before seeking a decision by the court.

“If in fact the sculpture is not a structure then the Board had and does not have any jurisdiction in this matter and it is Petitioner’s contention that both the decisions of the Building Inspector and the Board in this regard are arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and illegal in all respects,” writes Grossman.

He also argues the board ignored relevant facts and other evidence submitted into the record, “relied on self serving statements of fact and conclusions” and that it contradicted itself in determining the sculpture would not have a substantial impact on the physical and environmental conditions of the neighborhood, but would cause an undesirable change in the neighborhood.

Grossman also argues, given the size of the lot Lehr and Vered own, it was unreasonable for the board to suggest they could move the “Legs” elsewhere.

Lehr and Vered are asking the court to annul the ZBA’s decision, as well as their decision to uphold Platt’s determination that the “sculpture” is a “structure.”

According to Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride, village attorney Denis Schoen will handle the case for the ZBA. Schoen has until July 5 to review the case and respond to the court.

“This is not an issue of zoning, but a case where people just didn’t like it,” said Grossman in a phone interview on Monday. “I think the board acted inappropriately and my clients could win.”

UPDATED: Vered and Lehr’s “Legs” Must Walk

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The Larry Rivers sculpture “Legs” was given walking papers at the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on Tuesday. The board denied an application by Janet Lehr and Ruth Vered to legalize the 16-foot sculpture, which was erected three years ago next to their Madison Street home.

According to Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals Chairwoman Gayle Pickering, the “Legs” must be removed by September 15.

The battle over whether the sculpture should be allowed to remain on Lehr and Vered’s property, however, may be far from over.

“We have a Plan B that will put the burden of proof on the village,” said Lehr, hinting at possible litigation over the case. “It will be costly and expensive for the village.”

The “Legs” case has captured the attention of local residents, but has also spanned the globe in terms of media coverage, mainly because of the core argument that Lehr and Vered have made — that the sculpture is art, and not something that should fall under the purview of zoning regulations.

But the Village of Sag Harbor’s Board of Trustees denied a request by Lehr and Vered last year to define art under the village code. Village Building Inspector Tim Platt has continuously ruled that the “Legs” are in fact an accessory structure, and as such needed three variances from the zoning board in order to remain alongside Lehr and Vered’s residence, the former Bethel Baptist Church. The “Legs” are located a foot from the property line where 35-feet is required, and are seated at 16.1-feet high where 15-feet is the maximum allowed. The sculpture also protrudes into the sky plane 16.7 cubic feet more than allowed under the code.

In addition to seeking those variances, Lehr and Vered also asked the board to consider nullifying Platt’s definition of the “Legs” as a structure. After a protracted debate on Tuesday, Lehr and Vered were denied on all fronts.

“In all the years I have been here on this board I have never had a variance ask for that much relief,” said board member Anton Hagen, referring to the request for a variance to allow the “Legs” within a foot of the property line where 35-feet are required. “It goes against all other decisions I have made in 10 years on this board.”

“I feel the same,” said board member Brendan Skislock. “If they were looking for one or two feet of relief it would be different.”

The remainder of the board, with the exception of Michael Bromberg who has recused himself from ruling on the case since a family member owns a neighboring parcel, agreed the application should be denied.

In reading the decision, Pickering said deciding whether or not Platt erred in classifying the “Legs” as a sculpture would have required the board to consider whether or not the decision was “irrational or unreasonable.” The code defines a structure as “anything constructed or erected in the ground or upon another structure or building,” and as the board’s decision notes the “Legs” meet the definition of “anything.”

She added that the board’s analysis was also driven by a court case out of the Town of Southold, Miller versus Price, where the town decided that a sculpture of a heron needed a building permit. The town was sued but the decision was ultimately supported on the appellate level of the State Supreme Court.

“We are not persuaded by the argument that a sculpture is ‘art; and therefore somehow exempt from the Village Zoning Code,” reads the board’s decision. “A sculpture can be both ‘art’ and a structure subject to zoning. There is nothing in the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Code that exempts ‘art’ from the definition of a structure. Further, the concept of a local government determining what does and does not constitute ‘art’ would present a constitutional conundrum that government must avoid. ‘Art,’ like ‘beauty’ is in the eye of the beholder and is not something to be legislated.”

As for the rest of the variances, the board had to consider whether the benefit to Lehr and Vered outweighed the detriment to the health, safety and welfare of the neighborhood or community and if it would result in an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood.

“We are concerned about allowing a structure one-foot from the property line and the precedent that would set,” said Pickering.

She added neighbors have “vehemently opposed the application.” At public hearings earlier this year, Lehr and Vered received ample community support, but neighbors spoke against the application citing the size of the sculpture, the location just a foot from the property line and the fact that it is lit in the evening hours. Because of those factors, the board said the “Legs” would result in an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood and that the detriment to neighbors and the community outweighs the benefit to Lehr and Vered.

The decision also states that the location of the proposed structure in the historic district is “contrary to the goals of the village to preserve and protect historic character” and that Lehr and Vered have other alternatives in how they display the sculpture.

“Sag Harbor has been a center of culture and the arts,” reads the decision. “It is part of the village’s character and commerce. The arts have thrived in the village’s environment. Art galleries are a permitted use in the village business district. Art studios are a permitted use in the residential district and the display of art on public lands is encouraged. Finally, sculptures may be displayed on individual residential properties provided it is in a conforming location. In summary, there are a variety of options for the display of a sculpture in the village that do not run afoul of the village zoning code.”

While the village attorney, Denise Schoen, suggested the sculpture come down some time in the next 60 days, with the zoning board’s support Pickering said the “Legs” could remain until September 15.

“All artificial lighting of the structure shall be discontinued immediately,” she added.

After the decision was read, while walking out of the room Vered called the board “a bunch of chickens.”

Outside the board room she said the lighting of the sculpture, on the Henry Street side of her residence, provides needed street lighting on an otherwise unlit portion of the village. She also wondered why that lighting was so undesirable when the village is considering allowing a new convenience store and remodeled gas station at Harbor Heights on Route 114, which will come with new lighting on the edge of a residential neighborhood.

“They should pay me to have the lights and the sculpture,” said Vered.

She later returned to the boardroom and questioned two additional variance applications, including one for board member Skislock, saying they should not be approved because the applications did not adhere to the letter of the village zoning code.

“That is what variances are for,” said Bromberg.

After both applications were approved on first hearing, with decisions expected next month, Vered threw up her hands while walking out of the boardroom.

“What a surprise,” she said. “So fast, so fast.”



Vered’s Case Has Legs; Decision Tabled Until March

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Tara Newman purposefully drives or walks past Janet Lehr and Ruth Vered’s Madison Street home each day, to admire Larry Rivers’ sculpture, “Legs,” and she is not alone.

“This is art, no question,” said Newman during a Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on Tuesday night. “Larry Rivers’ was not just some local guy, and this is not just some sculpture, but the work of a world renowned artist.”

Newman was one of scores of people who came out mostly in support, though some opposed, the longstanding application of Lehr and Vered to legalize the 16-foot sculpture by the Village of Sag Harbor’s standards under its zoning code.

In a village not unaccustomed to debate, or art for that matter, in the last two years this story has evolved into a discussion about the right of a property owner to display expression as a Constitutional right versus whether a sculpture like the “Legs” should be defined as a structure.

For the first time since 2008, on Tuesday night, an attorney, Richard A. Hammer of Montauk, known locally as “Andy,” represented Lehr and Vered in their quest to keep the “Legs” planted next to their home, the former Bethel Baptist Church.

Hammer challenged the zoning board to consider Lehr and Vered’s right to Freedom of Expression, noting that similar methods of expression are not regulated by the village’s zoning code, such as flagpoles or birdbaths, for example. He added that if the “Legs” were to be considered a “structure,” the board could still state that it does not violate the basic principals in zoning — that is it does not benefit Lehr and Vered while proving a detriment to the health, safety and welfare of residents in Sag Harbor.

Down two members — ZBA Chair Gayle Pickering was away for Tuesday’s meeting and Michael Bromberg, who has relatives with homes nearby, has recused himself from hearing the application — the zoning board ultimately decided to table the application. By doing so, they will allow a 10-day period for new public comment, and give Pickering time to review the record and become involved in the decision making process.

The next zoning board of appeals meeting is scheduled for March 20 at 6:30 p.m.

However, on Tuesday night it was clear Hammer gave the board a lot to consider, and while the crowd packed into the second floor meeting room of the Municipal Building, including members of the media brandishing video cameras, so did two neighbors who opposed the “Legs” and the impact it has had on their properties.

Hammer presented the zoning board with a petition in support of the “Legs” remaining on Madison Street 430 names strong. He also offered 62 letters of support including from Larry Rivers Foundation Director David Joel, David Levy of the Sotheby’s Institute of Art and Helen Harrison of the Pollock Krasner Foundation.

Hammer called on the zoning board to vote against building inspector Tim Platt’s determination that the “Legs” were a structure, noting that as the village code reads, a structure could be virtually anything from a birdhouse to a flagpole or pergola or even a seasonal decoration. When speaking to Platt about the code’s lack of definition when it comes to what is excluded in the definition of a “structure,” Hammer said Platt informed him it fell to his common sense.

Hammer questioned whether the village code was in fact designed to regulate a case like this.

“If everything is a structure, common sense has to prevail on what is regulated and what is not,” argued Hammer. He noted in East Hampton and Southampton towns, sculptures are allowed under code with a building permit designed, not to prevent it from being erected, but to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents, as all codes are meant to ultimately do.

The “Legs,” he continued, have no accessory benefit to Lehr and Vered, not providing storage, shade or lighting, for example, and other than their existence do not have a function associated with their residential property as is common with accessory structures.

“It’s a vehicle for the exercise of a fundamental right of free speech and expression and an integral part of the Sag Harbor community,” said Hammer to the cheers of many in the crowd.

Hammer further argued that if Vered and Lehr were required to move the sculpture to conform with village standards for a sculpture this would be regulating the content of free speech into a backyard.

Displays by veterans groups, or others, continued Hammer, are expressions not relegated to backyards.

Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals acting chairman Brendan Skislock said the zoning board could not look at this application in terms of art, but as it has been defined as a structure. He asked Hammer for decisions or cases in the village with similar setback concerns.

As a “structure” under the village code, Lehr and Vered need three variances. The “Legs” are located a foot from the property line where 35-feet is required, and are seated at 16.1-feet high where 15-feet is the maximum allowed. They sculpture also protrudes into the sky plane 16.7 cubic feet more than allowed under the code.

Hammer questioned whether the benefit to Lehr and Vered outweighed any detriment on the community or a violation of the character of the community. Under those standards, even as a structure, the board could approve the “Legs” to stay, said Hammer.

He added unlike non-conforming decks, it would be difficult to find a comparable example to the “Legs” in Sag Harbor.

“To play devils’ advocate, and maybe this is fine, but what if someone two blocks away was going to come in and ask for a variance and say, ‘I am only one foot away from the property line and you gave this structure an approval’ and then you had 10 more homes, 20 more homes or 150 more homes come in,” said Skislock.

Hammer said while he understood concerns over precedent setting, in this case it could be something to celebrate if 150 homes erected sculptures similar to Lehr and Vered, although he questioned how the sculpture could ever be compared by another attorney to a garage a foot away from the property line — something that could increase noise, odors or light and affect neighbors.

Sag Harbor Village Attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. urged Hammer to focus on the “Legs” being considered a structure, noting there is case law that backs the village up.

“The second part is more pragmatic,” he said. “What I think is art and what you think is art and what everyone in this room thinks is art is going to be different. The last thing you want is for government to determine what art is.”

Hammer said that in addition to the “Legs” not impacting neighbors in a negative way, Rivers was a renowned local artist and that should be considered as well.

“I don’t share your vision for Sag Harbor where you stated you would welcome the development of 150 such structures in Sag Harbor in the future,” said board member Anton Hagen. “You state the precedence setting nature of our decision would further that goal you see as positive and I disagree with that.”

Both Skislock and board member Benedetta Duebel agreed with Hagen’s concerns about setting a precedent, with Skislock offering that perhaps the village code should be revised.

Sag Harbor resident Brian O’Leary, who said he knew Rivers dating back to 1983, said the artist would likely be amused that his sculpture could be banned in Sag Harbor.

“Sag Harbor should be proud his beautiful, whimsical sculpture lives in our village,” said O’Leary. “If the building was still a church and there was an equal size crucifix hanging on the wall, would you be asking the congregation to take it down?”

David Joel, the director of the Larry Rivers Foundation said he was concerned that through this debate the work of a great artist was being deemed “not art.”

“They have been documented in books, documented as art,” said Joel. “You don’t have to go reaching into some strange atmosphere to determine this art.”

“If it’s art, it shouldn’t be before this board,” said Hagen.

“I agree, 100 percent,” said Joel.

“We have no standing then,” said Skislock.

“Maybe you should recognize this should not come before you and you should not be in the uncomfortable decision of having to decide this,” said Joel. “The precedent you are setting here is the precedent of this is not art.”

“The issue being lost here is no one has said you cannot put up a sculpture in the Village of Sag Harbor,” said Thiele, after Duebel noted if a sculpture meets setbacks it is allowed as a structure.

“You have the ability to say this is not a structure,” added Hammer. “You could simply say this is not a structure, it’s art and kick it back to the board of trustees.”

However, not all supported Lehr and Vered, including Jennifer Houser, a former trustee and local businesswoman, who owns two houses facing the “Legs”

“This is not, for me, about art,” she said. “This is about living in the historic district of Sag Harbor and clarifying the codes that have been put in place. Again, this is not about art, but the precedent it sets.”

Houser, who said the “Legs” are illuminated at night, said she believes this has become a business opportunity for Lehr and Vered, and asked the board to uphold the standards of the historic district.

“I think the precedent you might want to consider not setting is censoring art in Sag Harbor,” said resident Duncan Hale, who wondered if he would soon be cited for the stone statue he has in his yard, three-feet from the property line.

“For the future of Sag Harbor and the artistic community, I am concerned there is a fear of what will happen if, God forbid, another person chooses to put another sculpture into their yard,” said artist and businesswoman Elizabeth Dow, who recently purchased the former Sag Harbor Methodist Church which she is converting into her textile design studio. “I believe if someone is to erect some sculpture of a certain size there should be a building permit for safety’s sake.”

However, Dow said with the confusion about the definitions of “art” and “sculpture” it should not be up to this board and they should dismiss it.

Noyac resident Charles McCarron, who owns a neighboring residence to Vered and Lehr, said he opposed the sculpture being lit. He noted that in order to do anything in Sag Harbor Village, including shingle a house, a permit is needed and he questioned why this should be different.

“I don’t know if it is art or not, but I don’t like them and I am a neighbor,” said McCarron. “Jennifer doesn’t like them and she is a neighbor.”

After the hearing, Vered was elated by Hammer’s performance, and said ultimately the application should stand on its own rather than the board choosing otherwise out of concerns for the next application.

“In this country, every decision should stand on its own and is important,” she said. “That is the kind of freedom we want — not to have everyone in one bag and thrown out. This is a beautiful country and everyone is judged by what they have done and not lumped into one place.”



Larry’s Legs: Are They Art?

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By Claire Walla

“We’re not looking at it as art, but as a non-conforming structure,” said Zoning Board of Appeals member Brendan Skislock of the 16’ 1” pair of legs standing along the northern wall of 161 Madison Street near downtown Sag Harbor.

All ZBA members repeated this message during Tuesday night’s planning session as the Board met with Vered (who chooses to go by her last name) and Janet Lehr to discuss the fate of “Larry Rivers’ Legs,” the sculpture designed by Rivers in late-60s that now rests along the northern side of the two women’s property.

The Legs currently violate four sections within Chapter 55 of the Village Zoning Code.

However, the meeting ended at a standstill. All parties agreed that certain elements of the Planning Code needed to be clarified by the Village Attorney, Anthony Tohill (who happened to be out sick), before a well-informed decision could be made. The ZBA will revisit the case at its next session October 19.

“The Board made the correct decision,” said Janet Lehr after the meeting. Though she and Vered came expecting to get the final word on their appeal, the Board was on-the-fence about certain legal aspects of the case. Had she and Vered pressed for a decision that night, and had it not gone in their favor, it would have been to their great detriment. According to Board member Gayle Pickering, in order to overturn a decision at that point, Lehr and Vered would have to sue and prove that the Board did not adequately hear their case. (In other words, it would be quite difficult.)

The hot topic now, as the debate continues, concerns the difference between two very similar words: “sculpture” and “structure.” Vered and Lehr purchased the sculpture in 2008 to adorn their property, the former Bethel Baptist Church. They placed the sculpture on a narrow strip of grass along the side of the house, just one foot away from the sidewalk; so, as a safety precaution they secured it into place by laying cement around its base.

According to the zoning board, this is where the trouble begins.

For the duration of Tuesday night’s meeting, the ZBA was operating under the impression that it’s the presence of the cement that actually makes the Legs a structure instead of a sculpture, and by calling it a structure the Board must attach zoning code regulations.

“Ok, so I’ll remove the cement,” Vered told the Board in attempt to put the issue to rest.

But the Board could not respond. This was a stumper, and just one example of why the Board hesitated to make a decision without Mr. Tohill’s presence.

As it stands now, in order for the Legs to be considered a legitimate structure they will need to be moved another 34 feet away from the property line (they are currently within a couple feet of both the sidewalk and the house) and they will need to lose about 13 inches off the top (structures should not exceed 15 feet).

“It needs to be moved to a conforming location,” Pickering said after Vered stated her case.

“But, the house is not conforming,” Vered retored.

This seemed to resonate. Member Anthony Hagel said he was “happy to hear the owner’s presentation,” agreeing that “it is unusual in a residential district for a building to come right up to the sidewalk.”

Whereas initially Board members expressed their concerns over making a decision that might set a precedent for future ZBA cases, all seemed content with postponing the decision until October, when Mr. Tohill could better advise discussions.

Other members of the 10-person audience spoke-out about the cultural significance of prominently displaying Rivers’ work of art: photographer Paul Ickovic pressed it as a matter of First Amendment rights (which he read for the crowd), and Vered’s and Lehr’s neighbor Charlie McCarron expressed outrage over the visible presence of art that, in his opinion, has nothing to do with the history of the town. On both accounts, however, the Board reiterated the fact that it’s not a matter of debating the legitimacy of the art itself.

Before the meeting adjourned, community member and local shop owner Susan Youngblood briefly addressed the Board. “What if [the artwork] wasn’t on the ground, but was mounted on the side of the building?”

Again, the Board was stumped. Pickering said that, according to Village Zoning Code, mounted objects can’t extend out further than 18 inches, but beyond that she wasn’t sure if the Legs could legally be affixed to the side of the building.

“Because it would be a shame if you have a no-win situation,” Youngblood continued. “There’s just nowhere else [on the property] to put them.”

Let’s See Your Legs, Larry

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web 40feet_of_fashion

By Helen A. Harrison

 The oversize legs striding along Henry Street have prompted some spirited debate in these pages. Clad only in old-fashioned nylons (sans garter belt), they add a dash of spice to the village’s architectural streetscape. Passers-by, not knowing the backstory, may well wonder where they came from and how they got here. Surely they didn’t walk to Sag Harbor on their own.

Their journey began in Lake Grove, Long Island, home of the Smith Haven Mall. When it opened in 1969 it was one of the nation’s largest shopping complexes, according to The New York Times, which also reported that it contained an unprecedented mixture of “high art and low commerce,” thanks to commissions arranged by Leonard Holzer, an executive with the mall’s developer. As it happened, Holzer’s wife, Jane, was something of an art-world personality. An uptown girl with downtown inclinations, Baby Jane, as she was known, was one of Andy Warhol’s “superstars,” appearing in several of his films, including Soap Opera, Batman Dracula and Ciao Manhattan. She persuaded her husband that the mall should feature site-specific work by contemporary artists, and got him to earmark $350,000 for the project. Among the pieces she convinced Holzer to commission—oddly, none by Warhol—were a stabile with a mobile top by Alexander Calder (dubbed Janey Waney in her honor) and a mural by Larry Rivers, 40 feet long and 15 feet tall, titled Forty Feet of Fashion.

Heavily into his assemblage phase at the time, and influenced by his friendship with the French kinetic sculptor Jean Tinguely, Rivers delighted in using vinyl, Plexiglas and recycled material to make dimensional mixed-media constructions, sometimes with moving parts. His recently completed The History of the Russian Revolution, for example, featured storm windows, plumbing pipes and real military weapons. Like Warhol and the other Pop artists, Rivers embraced the iconography of mass-market culture. His concept for the mall included references to some of the consumer products available in the surrounding shops: cosmetics (floating lips, à la Man Ray), bathing suits (somersaulting swimmers), appliances (including a clock with Leonard Holzer’s portrait as the face) and hosiery, represented by a pair of disembodied mannequin legs modeling sexy black stockings. There was also an automatic slide show, which broke down not long after the mural was installed. It was never repaired.

That was only the first step in the gradual deterioration of the mall and its art. The Calder lost its moving top section, and the base was insensitively relocated outside, where it graced the parking lot. Other pieces simply disappeared. Forty Feet of Fashion remained in place until another developer took over the mall in 1985 and did a major renovation. Rivers’ mural didn’t gibe with the new look, themed around the restored Calder, so the developer suggested donating it to a museum. But Rivers insisted on its restoration first. When they couldn’t come to terms, the mural was disassembled. Rivers got a few of the elements, including one of the swimmers, which is on view through August 31 at the Vered Gallery in East Hampton, as part of the exhibition, “Larry Rivers: Pop Icons.” He also got the legs, slightly reworked and repainted them, and planted them on the lawn outside his house on Little Plains Road in Southampton, where they disquieted the neighbors until his death in 2002. They were later acquired by gallery owner Ruth Vered and her partner Janet Lehr and installed on their Sag Harbor property, the former Bethel Baptist Church, two years ago.

Opinion seems to be divided on their appropriateness, and not only because they’re out of character with their surroundings. As the work of an artist whose controversial video portrait of his daughters’ sexual development is the subject of a tug of war between his younger daughter Emma and his estate, they are viewed less than sympathetically by those who see the artist as a degenerate who exploited his children in pursuit of his own agenda. That argument will be settled by the interested parties, and really has no bearing on the merits of the legs as a work of public art in a prominent village location.

Considering the paradoxical dearth of public art in a village notable for the many artists who live and work here, I think it’s about time we got a monument by a prominent local artist that’s livelier and more noteworthy than the generic Civil War statue at the intersection of Main and Madison. Rivers was a member of the East End art community for more than half a century. To be sure, he didn’t live in Sag Harbor, but he is buried in our Jewish cemetery, so he’s truly a permanent resident. The former church is also a fitting location for his sculpture. It became an art center when Abraham and Esther Rattner bought it in the 1950s—it’s where Jackson Pollock’s girlfriend, Ruth Kligman, worked briefly during the summer of 1956—so what could be a more suitable spot for showing off Larry’s shapely legs?


Helen A. Harrison, a Sag Harbor resident, is the director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in Springs. Her monograph on Larry Rivers was published in 1984 by Harper & Row.

Let Larry’s Legs Stay

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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).

The Younger Rivers

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Larry Rivers’ “Double Portrait of Berdie” is in the new exhibit at Guild Hall.

By Marianne Levine

 The name Larry Rivers conjures up many images and stories for those familiar with his life and work, and both will be celebrated once again in River’s first posthumous show, “Larry Rivers: Major Early Works” at Guild Hall in East Hampton starting with a free opening reception on Saturday August 9 at 5:30 p.m.  For those not familiar with Rivers’ art, it will be a fresh look at his mid 20th century work, which combines aspects of abstract expressionism and pop art. Christina Mossaides Strassfield, the show’s curator, explains that Guild Hall wanted to “honor him after he passed away in 2002, but it all came together only recently with the creation of the Larry Rivers Foundation.  He had such close ties with Guild Hall.  He even made us a birthday cake for our 50th anniversary.” And she goes on to relate that to her great satisfaction almost all of his major early works will be on display in the intimate setting of Guild Hall’s Moran Gallery.  On exhibit will be some of his most famous pieces such as “Double Portrait of Berdie” from the Whitney Museum of American Art, and “The History of the Russian Revolution” from the Hirshhorn. Some, if not most, of the work on exhibit was created in his Southampton studio.

Ms Strassfield explains that they decided to display work from the 1950s and early 1960s because it was “an important time for him.  He had studied with Hans Hoffman and could have been a second-generation abstract-expressionist, but he went against the prevailing trends and decided to do something different. He created figurative work with pop art images and yet still used the movement and brush strokes from abstract expressionism.  He wasn’t a minimalist.  He was true to himself.” The decision Larry Rivers made to buck the artistic trends and characterizations of his time highlight his grand individualism.

However well-known and important his work may be in the context of 20th century art history, Larry Rivers was first and foremost a true American character.  A man who started life as Yitzrok Loiza Grossberg in the Bronx, and subsequently renamed himself Larry Rivers as a jazz saxophonist and Juilliard student in the 1940s, he was befriended by the likes of Miles Davis while at school. He only became interested in painting in the later part of that decade, and had to support himself as a musician while studying fine art. Although painting and fine art may have eventually become his most notable forms of artistic expression, Rivers never stopped performing as a musician or actor, and he refused to limit himself to any one genre by eventually writing poetry, plays, and painting the Cedar Bar menu and designing stage sets as well. At one point he even became a grand prize winning contestant on a game show. 

With all this talent and energy, Rivers’ own interesting life and personal relationships were bound to be at the forefront of his reputation, and may have at times taken the focus off his important and influential work. In other cases his collaborations with friends such as Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara may have been an advantage. Ms Strassfield adds, “There was a lot of camaraderie between the artists. He was friends with Jane Freilicher, who first got him interested in painting, and he knew Jackson Pollack and deKooning and poets such as John Asbury and Kenneth Koch who really supported each other.” And when they all ended up at some point or other relocating to eastern Long Island in the 1950s, Rivers joined them, with his sons and mother-in-law, leaving behind a difficult marriage and unhealthy life style so he could, “get out of the city scene for a bit – away from the drugs and drink, and go someplace fresh and clean to do his work,” according to Strassfield. 

Although Larry Rivers is certainly a man of his time, and an important artist of his era, Strassfield mentions that a lot of his work seems quite fresh today, and especially she noted his short Beatnik film, “Pull my Daisy” which will be screened along with a Lana Jokel documentary “Larry Rivers: Public and Private” throughout the run of the exhibit.  Guild Hall will also be hosting more events such as the panel discussion, “I Remember Larry” on August 10 at 10 a.m., and a gallery talk by Christina Mossaides Strassfield on August 23 at 3 p.m. Ms. Strassfield sincerely hopes that the show will “renew interest in Larry and re-examine his place in art history,” since in many ways he was an artist who not only refused to follow the pack but also was ahead of it.