Two days before Christmas, when most of the citizenry was out buying presents for their family and one might expect that local officials would go easy on everybody, Building Inspector Timothy Platt of Sag Harbor, wrote a letter to Vered and Janet Lehr advising them that the jig was up and the sculpture that has been occupying the side lawn of their house on Madison Street for the last three years would now have to be removed or the couple would have to suffer the consequences.
Vered and Lehr purchased and installed this sculpture, created by artist Larry Rivers, on their lawn in 2008. From then until now there have been nearly 40 appearances in village hall, letters, proposals, definition decisions and other memorandum fired back and forth between the village and the couple about the sculpture. It seems it might have been nice for Platt to have waited until the holidays were over, but I guess he could not help himself in bringing this good cheer to the couple.
Sculptures by Larry Rivers are worth tens, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of dollars. This particular sculpture was created in the late 1960s at the request of the owner of what was then the first big shopping mall on Long Island, who wanted famous artists to display their work in permanent exhibit on the entry walls of the lobbies of what became the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove. Among others who were invited to participate included Peter Max and Alexander Calder, who created a mobile for that establishment. Rivers created a mixed media mural, “Forty Feet of Fashion,” which featured the legs.
After many years, new owners came in and decided that the mural should be donated to a museum. Rivers objected, saying that the piece should first be restored. An argument ensued, and the mural was disassembled. Among other parts that Rivers kept were the legs, which he reworked and displayed outside of his Southampton home until his death in 2002.
The sculpture, the legs of a showgirl in sexy stockings, wound up in the hands of Lehr and Vered, who own a well known art gallery in East Hampton.
Had they been a statue of Colonel Meigs, who with sword outstretched, could have educated our young about the battle of Sag Harbor during the Revolution, or if the sculpture had been a statue of Herman Melville or John Steinbeck, who both graced this town with their presence, nobody would have objected. But this statue stood 16 feet 1 inch high from the tips of the toes to the upper thighs where, unceremoniously, below the pelvis, this statue comes to an end, and it was not received well by some of the neighbors.
For three years now, Sag Harbor authorities have been suffering through meeting after meeting about what to do with these legs, with those in the art world on one side espousing freedom of expression and those on the other side saying get them the hell out of here.
The village wrestled with concepts such as legal structure, works of art, ‘ornamental protrusions,’ pre-existing uses, setbacks, property lines, building, uses and safety and at various times during these three years they have had experts come in and tell them the legs are legal and the legs are not legal. Also during these three years, the board has waffled and riffed back and forth, first deciding for one side and then the other, and at one other point saying it was beyond their authority to decide.
Ultimately, last May 19, the village emitted a final decision: the application for the legs was denied. The proposed variances to make them legal accessory structures on their north yard were denied. In order to be in compliance, they would have to be under 15 feet tall and be placed at least 34 feet away from the property line. Larry’s Legs would have to go.
Well, they have not. They remain. And there they are. But, according to the December 23 letter, the legs must be removed by January 22. “Failure to remove the structure will necessitate the issuance of an appearance ticket,” states the letter.
I don’t know if Vered and Lehr have kept them up under legal advice or just because they have been through enough to make them think that somebody is going to have to make them take them down.
I can tell them, and I can tell the village, that going onto someone’s property, with a piece of paper or without, in order to remove something bolted to a building and to a pedestal on the ground is hard to do legally in America without getting sued. A man’s home is his castle. And that’s it.
I recall an incident not far from where I live in Springs where a private citizen of our community had, for years, had out on his front lawn all sorts of junk, including barbecue stands, toy trucks, tables and chairs, a statue of Frosty the Snowman, various advertising signs, birdbaths and whatever else he felt like having out there, all in plain view of whoever wanted to drive by.
It took YEARS to get the Town of East Hampton to get up the legal paperwork and nerve to come onto his property and in one day clear everything out. I confess they did that. I confess they got away with it. I confess nobody got shot. And the community is better for it.
But I don’t know if they were right.