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Old Westbury OKs controversial statue at historic home

Real estate mogul Aby Rosen is seeking permits

Real estate mogul Aby Rosen is seeking permits for three large statues on his historic Old Westbury estate. The statues include a 33-foot-tall bronze sculpture of a nude pregnant woman and her fetus and one of the cartoon character Hello Kitty. Credit: Newsday Staff

Old Westbury Village's planning board approved Manhattan real estate mogul Aby Rosen's request to place a 33-foot-tall graphic statue, and two others, on his historic estate after Rosen had promised to move and screen it.

Neighbors had complained to village officials earlier this year after artist Damien Hirst's "The Virgin Mother," depicting a nude pregnant woman with half of her fetus exposed, was installed improperly on a conservation easement at the A. Conger Goodyear House. The 5.5-acre property was built in 1938 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The statue will be moved off the conservation easement, where structures and plantings are prohibited, and it will be "reoriented" so the bronze, dark patina of the structure will face the neighbors, while the "anatomically correct" side faces Rosen's home, said Peter MacKinnon, Rosen's land-use attorney.

"They're going to be happy neighbors and will enjoy the natural foliage, and Mr. Rosen can be able to enjoy an artwork that he prizes so dearly," MacKinnon said.

Representatives for Rosen, who did not attend the hearing, said the property will be screened by more than 200 new trees of varying heights, including nine tall Himalayan pines strategically designed around "The Virgin Mother."

Landscapers will sculpt into the property, creating contours around the statue, representatives said, noting the statue will rise 25 feet above grade level.

"Anyone walking by the property will not be able to visually see it," said MacKinnon.

Other concessions include: no lighting of the statues; perpetual maintenance of the landscape screening of the neighbors; an additional walk-through in the late fall when the trees have lost their leaves; and additional screening that Rosen will install as the board sees necessary.

Two other sculptures listed in the application include "Wind-Up Hello Kitty," described as a 2008 sculpture from Tom Sachs; and a 1986 Keith Haring sculpture, "Untitled: Figure Balancing on Dog." Village officials are considering a height limit for accessory structures, such as statues, that would limit them to 25 feet.

"It's wonderful when the board can facilitate having neighbors work together to solve a problem," said Planning Board chair Michael Wolf.

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