Last week, after over two years of vigorous and continuous debate, the Village of Sag Harbor finally ruled that the fabulous 16′ 1″ sculpture entitled “Legs,” done by the late artist Larry Rivers, standing on the lawn of the home of Janet Lehr and Ruth Vered, has got to go. They are in violation of at least four sections of the Village code.
It does not matter that Lehr and Vered are the owners of probably the most influential art gallery on the East End. It also doesn’t matter that their home there on Madison and Henry was originally a church, and later an art gallery, and after that the home of the celebrated artist Abraham Rattner who used the main interior nave as his art studio.
There are violations. The legs, as an accessory structure, are less than the required number-34 feet-from the property line. They are taller than the maximum height allowed for accessory structures of 15 feet. (They are 16 feet, one inch and the ordinance inspector, bearing a search warrant, did the measurement last September.) You could consider the legs as a mounted object on the side of the building however, since they are attached with brackets, but in that case, the legs are still in violation, extending out further from the house than the maximum allowed 18 inches. The legs are female after all and the hips are wider than the 18 inches.
There was a fourth violation but for the moment, in the absence of my copy of the final decision, which I seem to have misplaced, I cannot tell you what it is.
The truth is, however, that none of this mattered to the powers that be in Sag Harbor. What mattered was that the neighbors did not like looking out their windows at sexy legs 16 feet high. And what mattered to the neighbors is what mattered to the Village Trustees. These were registered voters. The Trustees would find a way.
The truth also is that all through Sag Harbor and elsewhere in the Hamptons, there exist wonderful sculptural works of art on front lawns of great estates that would surely, by the same measure, be in violation of one or another of these sections of Village code, that are left alone. Works of art are wonderful. There are also other objects in Sag Harbor, archways, gatehouses, metal gates, gazing globes, tombstones and bird baths that are now in violation and should be removed but will not. For example, the sacred five-fot-tall neon SAG HARBOR sign bolted to the front wall of the Sag Harbor Theatre will have to come down. It extends out 22 inches, far more than the allowed 18.
Why none of these things will come down however is that none of them are disembodied 16-foot tall very outrageous, naked, sexy white legs. And that’s the problem. There is nothing in the code that differentiates a statue of legs from a statue of, say, Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Meigs, the Revolutionary War hero who led the famous nighttime Meigs’ Raid against the British, resulting in the burning of 12 British ships, the killing of six Redcoats and the making off with 90 British prisoners. The Village historians and Trustees would prostrate themselves in ecstasy before a 16-foot-tall statue of this war hero.
This is Sag Harbor, after all, an old whaling village where some of the stores are still mom and pop-owned, all the history is accurate, and where there’s a metal kiddy ride horse in front of the Sag Harbor Variety Five and Ten into which you can put a quarter and enjoy watching the horse try very gently to displace your four-year-old while playing merry-go-round music. In the 40 years it’s been there, it has never succeeded. Come to think of it, that horse also will have to go. It too is an accessory structure less than 34 feet from the property line.
Will Lehr and Vered challenge this decision in the courts and fight for their first amendment rights all the way up to the Supreme Court? Will Lehr and Vered now wait 60 days and if all the other things in violation do not come down, go on a wild rampage tearing the town’s offending law-breaking violations apart? Stay tuned for the next episode of Janet Lehr, Vered, Larry Rivers’ “Legs” and the Sag Harbor Village Trustees.