A detail of the Larry Rivers work in question, hanging in the Chelsea Hotel, July 2010 (via flickr.com/robotclaw)

When all the art disappeared from the walls of the iconic Chelsea hotel last fall, where did it go? The Larry Rivers Foundation is the latest group trying to find out. Rivers’s “Syndics of the Drapery Guild as Dutch Masters,” a paint and wood piece that’s part of a series riffing on Rembrandt, is one of the most high-profile works whose whereabouts are currently unknown, after new hotel owners Chetrit Group quietly removed all the art — or ordered residents to remove it — and began a controversial renovation.

“We really didn’t understand that the work was missing until we found out the hotel was sold and work was being done,” David Joel, executive director of the Rivers Foundation, told Hyperallergic. “And then we went, wait a minute … ”

The Chelsea Hotel on Manhattan’s 23rd Street (via flickr.com/george3)

The foundation has hired a lawyer, Ronald Spencer of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, to help get the painting back. “It was tricky, because we were told some of the stuff that everyone’s read, about how the management was being unresponsive,” Joel said. “Personally I much prefer to send them a letter myself, because it’s faster and people would understand where we’re coming from. But the advice was that it was best to bring an attorney in.”

Spencer has sent several letters to the management company, but so far, there’s been no response. He hasn’t yet filed a lawsuit, but says he will do so if necessary, according to a report in The Villager.

The Rivers complaint is only the latest in a string of troubling art-related incidents since developer Joseph Chetrit bought the storied hotel and artist residence last August. The $80 million real-estate deal was marked from the start by mistrust between the developer and tenants, and many artists living in the Chelsea have expressed concerns ranging from eviction to the loss of the hotel’s character and quirky charm. At the moment, the silence on the missing art isn’t helping. Hyperallergic has left a message with the Chetrit Group but received no response.

A view of the once art-filled lobby of the Chelsea Hotel (via flickr.com/glenscolen)

In January, the Daily News reported that Colleen Weinstein, wife of the late nightclub impresario Arthur Weinstein, also began a letter-writing campaign to the hotel’s owners — with threat of a lawsuit — via her lawyer, Samuel Himmelstein. Weinstein claims that soon after she told the Chelsea’s new manager that she intended to taken down her husband’s artwork, all 25 pieces vanished.

And writer and hotel resident Ed Hamilton, who runs the Chelsea Hotel Blog, was lamenting the disappearance of a number of artworks as early as last July. Most notably, Hamilton reported that a painting of a reclining nude by Akbar Padamsee, which had long graced the hotel lobby until it disappeared in 2010, turned up at a Sotheby’s auction, where it made $1.4 million. And most disconcertingly, Hamilton mentioned the discovery of two artworks — including a sketch of Arthur Miller by artist Rene Shapshak — in the garbage on 23rd Street.

The list of musicians, writers, actors, and artists that have passed through the Chelsea reads like a who’s who of 20th-century American culture: Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Arthur Miller, Charles Bukowski, Stanley Kubrick, Frida Kahlo, Claes Oldenburg, Rivers and many, many more. “Larry has a long history of being involved with the hotel,” said Joel. “He’s loaned works there and bartered works there. This just doesn’t happen to be one of the bartered works.”

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...