Town & Country’s Kevin Conley mounts a defense of Aby Rosen and his desire to remove the Picasso stage backdrop that now graces The Four Seasons restaurant. In the process, he tells the original story of how the work wound up at the restaurant which was bereft of decoration after Mark Rothko reneged on his deal to provide the restaurant with a suite of paintings:
the 29-year-old Phyllis Bronfman, who’d been instrumental in hiring Philip Johnson and Mies van der Rohe to create the building that would house her father’s company, had ideas of her own. She headed to Cannes to visit Picasso. The 77-year-old twisted bread into animal shapes to amuse her but he too refused a commission—Bronfman attributed his unwillingness to the jealousy of his 30-year-old girlfriend at the time, Jacqueline Rocque. But Bronfman did get her hands on the old backdrop with the checkered history by other means: Serge Diaghilev, the master of the Ballets Russes, poor and dying of complications of diabetes in Venice, had cut it up in 1929 and sold it to a Swiss collector, who’d sold it to a French dealer, who was at the time that Bronfman bought it shilling the work around town for roughly five times the price of an equivalently sized Matisse. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., who curated the first Picasso retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, wrote Philip Johnson to warn him that he considered the painting inferior, calling it a white elephant.
And yet the work is now being heralded as something it is clearly not. There is nothing to substantiate the idea that Philip Johnson ever considered the curtain, as one critic grandiloquently put it, part of his Gesamtkunstwerk, never to be trifled with, in perpetuity. It seems equally plausible, given the very few works that Johnson ever allowed to hang inside the restaurant—Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, a big Roy Lichtenstein, and not much else and never that long—that the architect resented the intrusion of his employer in his efforts and relegated the work to its current spot between the grill room and the pool room, as a token gesture for a client who was, after all, impossible to put off entirely.