Isabella Rossellini to Mayor de Blasio: At the Frick, feeling of “living with art” must be preserved

IRossellini-thIsabella Rossellini, the internationally-acclaimed actress and performance artist, has added her voice to the campaign to save the Frick’s Russell Page Viewing Garden and complementary Pavilion from short-sighted destruction. On December 19th, Ms. Rossellini wrote to Mayor Bill de Blasio, regarding the Frick Collection’s ill-conceived expansion plan:

“As a champion of the arts, I ask that you please lend your support and ask that the Frick withdraw this proposal. If they fail to do so, I ask that you advocate for the Landmark Preservation Commission to deny it the right to destroy forever a unique piece of New York City so treasured here and around the world.”

Further, Ms. Rossellini declared that “Anyone who has visited the Frick knows that what makes it so very special is its intimate residential scale. It is that feeling of ‘living with art’ that defines the Frick.” She continues, celebrating the artistic significance of the Collection’s architectural and landscape ensemble and echoing the remarks of prominent architects such as Robert A.M. Stern, who affirmed to the New York Times that “[The Russell Page garden is] as important as a tapestry or even a painting, and I think the museum is obliged to recognize its importance.

Ms. Rossellini’s letter to Mayor de Blasio is below. Please share it far and wide!

Photo: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

 


Dec 19. 2014

Mayor Bill de Blasio
City Hall
New York, New York, 10007

Dear Mayor de Blasio,

I write to you regarding the urgent matter of the Frick Collection’s ill-conceived plans to destroy its famed Garden and reception Hall on 70th Street and replace them with a 106-foot, monolithic tower.

Anyone who has visited the Frick knows that what makes it so very special is its intimate residential scale. It is that feeling of “living with art” that defines the Frick. Its thoughtful design encourages tranquil reflection as one ambles through its Gilded Age rooms, surrounded by gardens and flooded with light. A masterstroke of the Frick’s design, its 70th Street Viewing Garden, is a much-photographed gift to passers-by at street level as well. Designed by the pre-eminent garden designer of the 20th Century, the British landscape artist Russell Page, the garden—with its lily pad pond, flowering trees and birds—is a formal masterpiece, setting the mansion apart from the grid as a contemplative refuge from the hustle and bustle of City life.

As the Frick Collection, including the Russell Garden and Pavilion, is landmarked five times over—as an Individual Landmark by both the City and State, as part of the City and State-designated Upper East Side Historic District, and as a National Historic Landmark, the ensemble must be protected from this short-sighted and careless destruction. The residential scale of the Frick is a central component of its designation. It is my understanding that the Landmarks Preservation Commission must now opine on the appropriateness of the new tower. Filling in this joyful space and absorbing the Frick mansion into an institutional monolith is the very definition of inappropriate.

The question becomes “Why do this?” Displaying art is not at the heart of this expansion. Indeed, the proposed 40,000 square-foot addition will not be dedicated to the showing of art. Instead it is proposed to include offices, a café, a larger gift shop, a lab, an auditorium and “flexible programming space” that could be used as a private catering hall. These uses do not warrant destroying the Frick’s Viewing Garden and Reception Hall Pavilion.

I also wish to highlight a bit of misinformation. Frick Director Ian Wardropper has asserted that attendance at the Frick is on the rise—but indeed, if one examines the Frick’s own public information, attendance has not increased significantly over the past 15 years, nor over the past 10. He also cites the long lines during the museum’s 2013 visiting Vermeer exhibit, but the museum has stated repeatedly that the Vermeer show was a once-in-a-lifetime undertaking, and was never meant to set a new standard.

We all understand the need for museums to evolve, but as several prominent architects, including Robert A.M. Stern, have publicly stated, there are many better modernization options for the Frick to consider. They include acquiring nearby properties and relocating administrative space into them (to allow for the opening of the mansion’s second floor, a worthy goal), creative excavation to add a desired performance space, and reconfiguring the museum’s art reference library on 71st Street. These are only a few of the options, as many more sensitive alternatives exist.

As a champion of the arts, I ask that you please lend your support and ask that the Frick withdraw this proposal. If they fail to do so, I ask that you advocate for the Landmark Preservation Commission to deny it the right to destroy forever a unique piece of New York City so treasured here and around the world.

Sincerely,

Isabella Rossellini Rossellini-Letter-(1)-page-

 

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

 

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