A 1960s sculpture by Larry Rivers — a 16-foot-tall pair of woman’s legs — must be removed from its owners’ Sag Harbor property, the Village of Sag Harbor has ordered.
Owned by Janet Lehr and the art dealer Vered, the sculpture stands next to a house in a converted Baptist church at the corner of Madison and Henry Streets. Debate about whether the legs are sculpture, ornament, or structure, temporary or permanent has been ongoing since they were placed there three years ago.
Early on, the village attorney, Fred W. Thiele Jr., said that the legs were a structure, according to The Sag Harbor Express, and should be subject to the village’s building and zoning requirements. It was his opinion that the couple needed a building permit to erect the legs, and that they should be also be subject to architectural and historic review. There was discussion of variances that Vered and Ms. Lehr could apply for to legalize the sculpture, as well as talk of moving it 34 feet from the property line and shaving 13 inches from the top of it.
Another debate focused on whether the legs were a permanent or temporary part of the residence, and whether changing the sculpture’s cement base to sand would solve the problem. There were also definition discussions, such as if the sculpture was indeed a structure or an ornamental feature.
In May, the village zoning board denied the couple’s request for variances that would allow them to keep the sculpture in its current location. They were told to take it down or face continual fines.
The Dec. 23 letter from the Sag Harbor Building Department seems to signal the end of the couple’s battle to keep the legs standing. The letter directs them to remove the legs by Jan. 22. “Failure to remove the structure will necessitate the issuance of an appearance ticket,” it says.
“I think it adds character to the town. It doesn’t hurt anyone,” said Vered, adding that the village should be proud to have a prominent display of work by Rivers, who lived in Southampton and is buried in Sag Harbor.
Christine Bellini, a neighbor, said yesterday that she understands that the sculpture violated village zoning code, but “I think an exception in this situation is warranted.” As she sees it, people come to Sag Harbor to experience part of the history of the modern art that was prevalent there in the 1950s and ’60s. “I know the village is trying to follow the letter of the law . . . but as a neighbor, and historian of the area, I feel the Hamptons would not have the prowess it does as a cultural destination without the artwork.”
Having lived around the block for four years, she said she appreciates all the work Vered and Ms. Lehr have put into their property. Before they restored the old church, it was “derelict,” she said.
Vered agreed, saying that even her partner, who is never one to back away from challenges, was hesitant to take on the restoration project.
As for “Legs,” she believes that for every one who has complained “there are a hundred who love the artwork.”
Ms. Lehr, who calls the legs a “landmark,” is upset with the decision, saying so in a letter to The Star: “We want our legs. The legs must stay.”
The couple is not sure what they will do. They have contacted their lawyer and reached out to the estate of Larry Rivers, but they may wind up considering offers for the piece.