Letter to the Mayor: To Demo Garden, a “cultural crime”

Last week, Cathleen McGuigan wrote in her Architectural Record Editor’s Letter, speaking of the Frick’s Russell Page-designed garden on East 70th Street, that “[t]oo often in the fight for architectural preservation, significant landscapes are overlooked.”

garden-thPhotographer and author Marina Schinz follows on McGuigan’s remarks with an impassioned plea to preserve the Frick’s Page garden, noting from first-hand experience “how few done by this great master are left.”

Ms. Schinz, now based in Switzerland, is the photographer and co-author of The Gardens of Russell Page, the seminal English-language compilation of the works by the masterful British landscape designer, Russell Page. Learning of the proposed destruction of the Page garden, she felt compelled to register her opposition with those key-decision makers with whom rests the power to halt these plans in favor of a re-evaluation of alternatives for the Frick.

Ms. Schinz’s powerful letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio is below; please read and share it along to others who share in her conviction that the legacy of Russell Page at the Frick garden merits protection!

Photo by Marina Schinz, from The Gardens of Russell Page.

 

MARINA SCHINZ
PHOTOGRAPHER & AUTHOR
SWITZERLAND

Mayor Bill de Blasio
City Hall
New York, NY 10007

Dear Mayor de Blasio,

The news of the proposed addition to the Frick Collection has left me speechless. To eliminate any green breathing space in Manhattan is unforgivable. But to destroy a garden – designed by Russell Page, the best known landscape architect of the 20th Century – is a deed of aggressive ignorance that beggars description. It is as if a museum decided to burn one of their paintings to make more room – for what?

As the photographer and co-author of the book The Gardens of Russell Page, I am intimately acquainted with many aspects of the designer’s works and his writing. In the process, I also have become aware what fragile things gardens are and how few done by this great master are left.

The character of The Frick Collection has always been that of a private mansion. Its size is one of its main attractions. Its human scale is also reflected in its East garden, where Russell Page was able to turn a very limited space into a rare island of serenity. It is a fine piece of work and New York should not only be proud to have the only Russell Page Garden in the city, but it should help the Frick to regard and curate this small area as one of its jewels. Thousands of passers-by have enjoyed glimpses of this small oasis over the years, witnessing the seasonal changes at eye level – further proof of the designer’s capability – and deriving moments of peace and tranquility amidst the bustling activity of the Upper East Side.

Maybe we need to take a step back and have a discerning look at what is going on in the world of museum expansions. A museum’s role is to uphold excellence, to educate and delight. When the emphasis is suddenly placed on commercial success instead, these institutions lose their original function. MoMA has led the way by changing its former atmosphere into that of an airport, with chaos reigning and crowds milling around. The Morgan Library – once on a human scale – has also busted out of its original framework and is no longer what it was: restaurant, museum shop, and toilets today have become its prime destinations.

The question is: do we really want to change the role of museums and attract larger and larger crowds, which often consist of people busier with their electronic gadgets than with looking at art? Should we allow the art works themselves to recede into the background and become decoys to lure more buyers to the museum shops and eating establishments?

Gardens can be works of art too, and scratching the Russell Page garden from the Frick Collection in order to replace it with an oversized and unnecessary building is a cultural crime, which clearly lowers the quality of life in New York. Why should a garden be replaced by stone and cement? Does Manhattan not have enough of that as it is?

Sincerely,
sig

Marina Schinz

 

Cc:

Meenakshi Srinivasan, Landmarks Preservation Commission
Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President
Melissa Mark-Viverito, New York City Council Speaker
Dan Garodnick, New York City Council
Dan Quart, New York State Assembly
Liz Krueger, New York State Senate
Carolyn Maloney, New York State Representative
Ian Wardropper, The Frick Collection
Margot Bogert, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, The Frick Collection
Unite to Save the Frick

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *