The threat posed to the Frick Collection is not a cause for concern solely for New Yorkers. As a world-class institution, the Frick is respected and beloved the world over. It is no surprise, then, that the international press is focusing in on the destructive expansion plan proposed by the museum.
For its September issue, Kunstzeitung (or “Art Newspaper”) reports on the “construction fever” that is overtaking cultural institutions in New York City, the Frick being the latest to pursue expansion. And most “alarming,” writes the paper: “… if even a museum director is blind to the aesthetic quality of his building and its gardens and fails to appreciate the fact that space can be more valuable than stone.”
Based in Berlin, Kunstzeitung is a leading German-language arts journal, published monthly, with a circulation of 200,000. The translation of the article is below; click here to read the original German-language version.
New York Museums in Construction Fever
By Claudia Steinberg
Now that the brief respite of the recession has ended, New York is in the midst of a manic construction boom again. The southern periphery of Central Park is being colonized with a pine forest of gigantic towers, and the unrelentingly ambitious directors of cultural institutions are being led to believe in the need for grand new buildings or expansion. The Whitney museum abandoned its iconic Breuer building for the cheap-looking aluminum box by Renzo Piano now nearing completion, and just recently the Frick Collection announced plans for a five-story* block on its tiny Fifth Avenue property. Heard immediately for good reason were loud protests against the disfigurement of one of the few museums in a private mansion, which New York does have to offer in contrast to Paris. The steel magnate Henry Clay Frick opened the doors of his private quarters to the public without the restrictions of an Albert Barnes. A visit to the residence, seldom overrun with tourists, offers one of the rare opportunities to see works by Holbein the Younger, Ingres, Titian and Vermeer in such a setting, equally as magnificent as intimate.
If the Landmarks Preservation Commission in charge approves the application for expansion of the Beaux-Arts building completed in 1914, a popular garden of water lilies and lotus blossoms will be offered up for a “clumsy addition” by the architecture firm Davis Brody Bond, as Michael Kimmelman, the New York Times architecture critic, sees things. This oasis in the increasingly congested city was created in 1977 by the renowned British landscape architect Russell Page, but even already then the museum direction was contemplating expansion.
Unlike the Morgan Library, another New York gem from the Gilded Age some 100 years ago, Ian Wardropper, Director of the Frick Collection, decided on a conservative approach: The stout limestone building is set to be integrated seamlessly into the original facade and the successful 1930s expansion that transformed the mansion into a museum. Wardropper argues that after all, Central Park is directly opposite, and that more exhibition and office space are urgently needed. It is alarming if even a museum director is blind to the aesthetic quality of his building and its gardens and fails to appreciate the fact that space can be more valuable than stone.
* Note from Unite: The Frick Collection has described the addition as six-stories and 106-feet-high.