The Larry Rivers Foundation is suing developer Joseph Chetrit, the former owner of the Chelsea Hotel, over a missing painting that once hung in the hotel’s lobby and that the foundation has been trying to recover for three years.
Filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York on July 28, the foundation’s complaint, obtained by Hyperallergic, is directed at Chetrit and the companies Chelsea Dynasty LLC and Chetrit Management LLC, both of which Chetrit is allegedly a member. Its stated aim is the recovery of the Larry Rivers painting in question, “Dutch Masters” (also known by the title “Syndics of the Drapery Guild as Dutch Masters”), the value of which is estimated at “not less than $250,000 and probably much more.” The foundation also seeks “compensatory and punitive damages.”
The complaint lays out the history of “Dutch Masters” at the formerly art-centric Chelsea Hotel, where Larry Rivers lived for some period of time:
Larry Rivers had previously loaned a work entitled “De Kooning’s Father: Portrait of Arshile Gorky” to the Chelsea Hotel, which work was prominently displayed in the Chelsea Hotel lobby.
Subsequently, in or around 1968, Larry Rivers sold ‘De Kooning’s Father: Portrait of Arshile Gorky’ to a third party and arranged to have that painting removed from the Chelsea Hotel.
Larry Rivers retained the proceeds from the sale of ‘De Kooning’s Father: Portrait of Arshile Gorky.
To replace ‘De Kooning’s Father: Portrait of Arshile Gorky,’ Larry Rivers loaned Dutch Masters to the Chelsea Hotel for exhibition purposes.
The complaint states that Rivers never sold the work to the Chelsea, nor did he agree when the hotel’s managers asked him to donate it. Decades later, in 2002, when Rivers died, his estate gifted the foundation with title to the painting.
The foundation did not take action for another eight years, when, according to the complaint, “in or around 2010 or 2011, the Larry Rivers Foundation learned that Defendants, individually and/or collectively, had asserted ownership of Dutch Masters and removed it from the Chelsea Hotel.” Around the same time, the foundation learned that other artworks had been removed from the hotel under Chetrit’s new management, which bought the property in 2011. (You can see a photo of “Dutch Masters” hanging in the Chelsea Hotel lobby in November 2007 here.)
Thus began a string of correspondence: The foundation sent a letter requesting the return of the work. The Chelsea group responded with a phone call in which a man named Michael Butler “on behalf of Defendants, asserted that it was well known that art at the Chelsea Hotel was provided in lieu of rent and requested that the Larry Rivers Foundation send documents to substantiate its demand.” The foundation sent an affidavit in November 2011 that “attested to conversations between Larry Rivers and a close friend at or around the time of the loan of Dutch Masters, stating that Dutch Masters was intended to be a loan and discussing the circumstances of the loan.” The Chelsea did not respond. After repeated requests, on June 25 of this year, the foundation sent a letter demanding the return of the painting “within 10 calendar days.” It received no response.
And so, this week, finally, “the Foundation brought the suit because it is the owner of the painting, it repeatedly demanded that the defendants turn over the painting, and the painting has not been turned over,” Judith Wallace, an attorney representing the Larry Rivers Foundation told Hyperallergic.
Notably, Chetrit no longer owns the Chelsea Hotel, having sold his shares to his former partner Ed Scheetz last year. (In May, Scheetz rebranded a string of properties he owns as the Chelsea Hotels group.) Hyperallergic asked representatives of the Larry Rivers Foundation if they’ve been in touch with Scheetz but has not received a response. The Chetrit Group was not immediately available for comment.