WHAT'S AT STAKE
In a March 1977 article in The New York Times, architecture critic Paul Goldberger 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 palace of 1913-14 by Carrère & Hastings is a place of such serenity that it carries most visitors worlds away from New York.”
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 proposed monolithic expansion both 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. As the Frick’s own former Chief Curator, Colin Bailey, has noted, the Frick is “renowned for its small, focused exhibitions.” 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. This signature intimacy and scale are qualities central to the museum’s many landmark designations.
—National Historic Landmark Designation Report for The Frick Collection,
issued by the Secretary of the Interior, October 6, 2008
We must make it clear to the Frick’s leadership that this signature intimacy and scale are the very qualities that make the museum unique in the art world.
Designed by renowned British landscape architect Russell Page as a permanent installation, the Viewing Garden is an important work of art in its own right. Galen Lee, Horticulturalist and Special Events Designer for the Frick, is quoted on the museum’s archived virtual garden tour as saying:
“While the Fifth Avenue garden is grand and imposing, the Seventieth Street Garden, designed by Russell Page in 1977, is soft and intimate. In the words of its designer, this garden is to be viewed — from the street or through the arched windows of the Reception Hall — like an Impressionist painting … Page’s garden is designed to slow, or stop, a busy New Yorker, to make one pause for a moment — as a respite from the city.”
The Garden Conservancy’s vice president of preservation, Carlo Balistrieri, recently stated in a press release:
“The Frick has a rare chance to preserve a treasure that is not painted on canvas, carved from wood, shaped out of precious metal, or sculpted of stone — it can save a living, breathing work of art.”
Only a small number of Page’s commissions were in the United States. Of his major public commissions, only a few rare designs remain extant. In New York State, the PepsiCo Sculpture Garden (Purchase, NY) and the Viewing Garden of the Frick Collection in New York City.
Learn more about the garden and designer Russell Page’s approach to its creation in the “Places” feature from the Library of American Landscape History.
Complementing the Viewing Garden is the landmarked, light-filled Reception Hall Pavilion, designed by the architectural team of John Barrington Bayley, Harry van Dyke and G. Frederick Poehler.
–“Hey, Fat Cats, Keep Your Mitts Off My Frick,”
by Manuela Hoelterhoff, Bloomberg, July 18, 2014
Russell Page masterfully designed the garden concurrent with an addition to the mansion by architects John Barrington Bayley, Harry van Dyke and G. Frederick Poehler. Heralded a success, the Reception Hall Pavilion addition expertly achieved the institutional goals of the Frick without sacrificing the feel and aesthetic of Henry Clay Frick’s original residence.
Paul Goldberger, in his 1978 review of the previous year’s achievements in design, references the Frick Reception Hall Pavilion addition favorably in The New York Times:
“The opening of the addition to the Frick Collection at 1 East 70th Street last March was, in a quiet way, a radical and important event in New York architecture. Harry van Dyke and John Barrington Bayle, the architects, designed a serious classical structure, of limestone to match the existing wings of the Frick, and it was built as seriously as anything was built by the eclectic architects of the American 1920s.”
In the same year, 1978, Harry Van Dyke received the Albert S. Bard Citation of Merit in Architecture for the Frick addition.