Following a seven-year legal battle, a State Supreme Court judge has ruled that Larry Rivers’ now infamous “Legs” sculpture must be removed from its place outside the home of gallerists Ruth Vered and Janet Lehr in Sag Harbor. But this war is likely far from over.
“I’ll do everything I can to keep fighting,” Vered said, sharing her frustration just two hours after she learned of the ruling on Monday. “This is against freedom of speech and freedom of expression…this is against everything this country stands for,” she added, noting that 680 people signed a petition asking to keep “Legs” up at their Madison Street home, and both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal published articles in favor of her and Lehr’s right to display what is obviously a piece of art and not an “accessory structure,” as the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals contends.
The “Legs” controversy began in 2008 when Lehr and Vered installed the 16-foot fiberglass legs outside their converted Baptist church home, just 12 inches from their property line, without a building permit. As often happens in Sag Harbor, especially in historic districts, a few vocal neighbors immediately rose a stink about the sculpture, and the case eventually went before the ZBA, which ruled it an accessory structure in 2012 and denied all variances that would allow it to stand.
But the fight didn’t end there. Backed by a vast network of art world supporters and their petition, Lehr and Vered argued that Rivers’ “Legs” is art, not simply a structure, and should therefore not be subject to laws governing the size and placement of structures, such as sheds, garages, flagpoles and the like. To stop them from displaying “Legs,” their lawyer Stephen Grossman argued, would be a violation of their right to free speech and expression.
This recent Supreme Court ruling upholds the ZBA’s decision, explaining that “Legs” is art and a structure at the same time, and is therefore subject to zoning restrictions requiring it be below a certain height and set back from the property line.
“I don’t understand how a group of five people in Sag Harbor get to go over 680 people,” Vered said, pointing out that the ZBA’s members are appointed and not elected. “Where do they get the right?” she asked. “Where are they coming from?”
The peeved homeowner said the neighbors who complained about “Legs” don’t even live on Madison Street anymore. She said the man next door hasn’t lived in his home for the last 10 years, and both his home and the home of the original complainant across the street are up for sale. “I’ve been there forever and I plan to stay forever,” Vered said, pointing out that she improved the historic character of the neighborhood by renovating the 1844 Baptist church into a home, while repairing the outside to perfectly match the original building. “It was a piece of junk,” she said. “And what do I get for it? I’m punished constantly.”
Vered said she and Lehr have already spoken with their attorney and they are now taking time to digest what’s happened and figure out what to do next. “Nobody should be able to take this right from us—I’m pissed as hell,” Vered said. “I’m not ready to hang up my coat.”