Art vs. commerce: Sony Building muralist wants more control

Dorothea Rockburne still isn’t buying the Chetrit Group’s commitment to preservation

The Sony Building, Dorothea Rockburne and one of the murals, “Northern Sky”
The Sony Building, Dorothea Rockburne and one of the murals, “Northern Sky”

A pair of pictures is worth 1,000 of Joseph Chetrit’s words, at least to Dorothea Rockburne.

The abstract painter is still considering seeking landmark status for her frescos — Northern Sky, Southern Sky — even after several sit downs with Joseph and Jonathan Chetrit, as well as architect Robert A.M. Stern, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The developers – who are converting the 648,000 square foot office building at 550 Madison Avenue into 113 luxury condominiums and a hotel, along with partners Clipper Equity – promised to “sensitively preserve the murals in their existing location and condition, which will entail considerable cost and time,” according to the Journal.

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But the Chetrits have refused to guarantee the painting, located in the building’s sky lobby, will be preserved in perpetuity, the artist told the paper, and have failed to include her in the details of the work’s presentation, such as lighting and nearby objects.

“They can preserve it today and destroy it tomorrow,” she told the Journal. “They won’t give me any respect about how it’s being saved.”

Stern defended the Chetrits’ choices. “I am the architect and interior designer for the project and not Dorothea,” he told the paper.

The partners bought the building from Sony in 2013 for $1.1 billion. A triplex penthouse at the building is expected to have an asking price of $150 million. The developers are seeking a new loan worth around $1.4 billion for the project, a good chunk of which would go toward paying off $900 million in debt.  [WSJ]Ariel Stulberg