WHAT WILL BE LOST: THE INTIMATE FRICK EXPERIENCE
—National Historic Landmark Designation Report for The Frick Collection, issued by the Secretary of the Interior, October 6, 2008
Visiting the jewel box-like Frick is a unique and intimate experience. Nowhere else in New York – a city famed for its museums and cultural institutions – can a visitor be both fully transported to the Gilded Age and presented with artistic masterworks in such a contemplative setting.
An afternoon spent slowly and quietly exploring the Frick feels like visiting a private home, not a corporate mega-museum. The configuration of the museum’s buildings and gardens fosters an extremely personalized experience, a long-celebrated and defining characteristic. The Frick’s own 2006 press release announcing the publication of Chief Curator Colin Bailey’s book Building the Frick Collection, rightfully notes that the Frick is “renowned for its small, focused exhibitions.” [Link #1] Indeed, critics have lauded the Frick for its “small, smart shows” contrasting starkly in feel with that of crassly expanded art complexes that can recall “something akin to an outlet mall on Black Friday,” as noted in The New York Times. [Link #2]
In a March 1977 article in The New York Times, architecture critic Paul Goldberger [Link #3] recounts a humorous but telling anecdote about a local psychiatrist who “sent his troubled patients to relax at the Frick Collection.” He adds, “There should not be much surprised to that: Henry Clay Frick’s limestone place of 1913-14 by Carrère & Hastings is a place of such serenity that it carries most visitors worlds away from New York.”1
Importantly, the Frick’s proposed monolithic expansion, which will replace the Reception Hall Pavilion and Viewing Garden with the equivalent of an 11-story tower, runs counter to the wishes of founder Henry Clay Frick, who specified “that his New York house have ‘plenty of light and air,’” and subverts the original Trustees’ intent to preserve the “residential character” of the house.2
We must make it clear to the Frick’s leadership that this signature intimacy is the very quality that makes the Frick unique in the art world.
1) “Frick Addition Echoes Original, a Holdover From Innocent Times,” by Paul Goldberger, The New York Times. March 1, 1977.
2) Colin B. Bailey, former Deputy Director & Chief Curator of The Frick Collection, in the publication “Building The Frick Collection: An Introduction to the House and its Collections,” 2006, page 119.