New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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Pollock or Matisse? Lobby Art Can Be a Battlefield.

Upper West Side, Manhattan

Lobby Art

Many interior designers recommend "safe" art for lobby walls – not a Jackson Pollock imitation.

Oct. 8, 2019

Remodeling the lobby, hallways, and elevators are among the most controversial projects any co-op or condo board can undertake. When an Upper West Side co-op board appointed a committee of three to select a rotating display of art works in the lobby – surprise, surprise – not all of the hundreds of shareholders were happy. What can shareholders do when they detest the art on the lobby walls?

“Displaying unpopular art or rotating art is not a breach of fiduciary duty,” Ingrid Manevitz, a partner at the law firm Seyfarth Shaw, tells the Ask Real Estate column in the New York Times.

But just because the board has the right to make unpopular decisions doesn’t mean it should. If enough shareholders are offended by the board's – or its committee's – taste in art, those shareholders could vote the board out at the next election. To avoid this drastic prospect, some boards are moving away from art altogether, preferring decorative textured wall coverings. Marilyn Sygrove, an interior designer who specializes in residential lobbies and common areas, says that when her clients insist on art, "We try to do safe art – no people. I try to do things that are soft, soothing, not controversial."

Ideally, the board should survey residents to get a sense of what styles they like. Not everyone will be happy, of course, but at least people will feel like their voices were heard. If a majority of residents want a rotating exhibit, a survey will confirm that. If not, the board should let it go.

For the Matisse fans who can't stand that Jackson Pollock imitation on the lobby wall, an avalanche of angry letters to the board might be more effective than a petition drive. So ask your fellow Matisse fans to start writing. Insist that the board open the design committee to concerned shareholders and that it survey residents. If your requests are ignored, run for a seat on the board in the next election. And if you win, get ready to hear from the unhappy Jackson Pollock fans in the building.

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