A wavy 45-foot-long abstract mural that adorned the lobby of a movie theater across from Bloomingdale's is the topic of negotiation between a City Council member and the theater operator, according to an Upper East Side historic preservation group.
The mural by Russian émigré artist Ilya Bolotowsky vanished from public view after alterations to the building in 2004. The executive director of the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, Seri Worden, said that a meeting between Council Member Daniel Garodnick and the current owners of the cinema yielded the news that the mural was in storage, apparently on Long Island, and that there was discussion regarding its future, including its possibly being donated to a museum.
Ms. Worden said the best outcome, however, would be to have the work reinstated in the original space.
Influenced by Piet Mondrian, Bolotowsky conceived the work as a depiction in abstract form of the motion of film. The painting unfolds like a Chinese scroll (the artist himself made this analogy) with its dark hues gradually evolving into lighter colors. The work appeared to float on an S-shaped wall and greeted art film lovers. Other décor in the modernist cinema, built by Abraham W. Geller Associates, included Danish copper lamps. Through the years, filmgoers poured into the two-screen movie house at Cinemas I and II at 1001 3rd Avenue to see film openings such as "The Battle of Algiers" or "Breaker Morant."
Ms. Worden said that while the theater itself was unlikely to be landmarked after stucco was put over its blue Venetian tiles on the exterior, she was focusing on how the art could be saved. She has over the past few years sent letters inquiring about the mural. Robert Smerling of City Cinemas Corporation, which operates the movie house, did not return a message left at his office seeking comment by deadline.
Bolotowsky captured the kinetic energy of the city. The founding director of the Russian American Cultural Center, Regina Khidekel, said Bolotowsky's work was strong. Bolotowsky was part of the second generation of Russian avant-garde artists, coming after an earlier age cohort that included Malevich and Kandinsky. His family left St. Petersburg and went to Baku, where Bolotowsky 's father worked as a lawyer for an oil company owned by Alfred Nobel. Bolotowsky later moved to Constantinople where he attended college before immigrating to America in 1923. He had a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in 1974, and died in 1981.
The mural was part of the ambience of the theater. A consultant to the building of the cinema, James McNair, said it was great if the mural has been saved. He recalled in the 1960s the cinema served free espresso but no food such as popcorn. He said klieg lights were used to announce film openings and that the theater was the first in New York City to have an escalator installed.
How much did the mural mean to the artist? The son of the artist, Andrew Bolotowsky, told The New York Sun that he recalled that his father would occasionally head over to the cinema to make conservation repairs himself.