NYC’s Frick Collection has a controversial expansion plan, which involves replacing a garden, designed in 1977, with a Davis Brody Bond-designed stair-stepped building. The proposed renovation, which is NOT finalized and needs the Landmarks Preservation Commission‘s approval, would add 40,000 square feet to the institution, 3,600 of it gallery space increasing it by one quarter and its conservation lab facilities by 84 percent. The addition would house an auditorium, classrooms, and administrative offices, freeing up parts of the original mansion to house exhibits. The institution’s reception hall, which was added in the 1970s, would be demolished.
The Frick collection was assembled by the Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919) and is housed in his former residence on Fifth Avenue. One of New York City’s few remaining Gilded Age mansions, it provides a tranquil environment for visitors to experience masterpieces by artists such as Bellini, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Gainsborough, Goya, and Whistler. The museum opened in 1935 and has continued to acquire works of art since Mr. Frick’s death. Adjacent to the museum is the Frick Art Reference Library, founded in 1920 by Helen Clay Frick as a memorial to her father and it is one of the leading institutions for research in the fields of art history and collecting.
The backlash against this new plan has been fierce. A group of 54 artists and other art world leaders signed a letter asking Mayor de Blasio and Meenakshi Srinivasan, chair of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, to deny the Frick Collection’s proposed plan for expansion:
“Those of us in the art world who cherish the unique and tranquil ambiance offered by the Frick are urging the Frick to withdraw its proposed plan and consider alternative methods of expansion that would preserve the character essential to its appeal.” -Signed by gallerists Paul Kasmin and Irving Blum, filmmaker Sofia Coppola, and artists Jeff Koons, Chuck Close, John Currin, Brice Marden, Frank Stella, Cindy Sherman, Deborah Kass, Cecily Brown, Lisa Yuskavage, Rudolf Stingel,Sarah Sze…
While the new architectural plan will preserve the original building’s gallery spaces, add a rooftop garden, opening up the second floor to the public for the first time, the letter’s signatories are worried about the museum’s larger context as an architectural complex. The museum’s lawn facing Fifth Avenue will remain under the new plan.
The New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman has been MOST vocal about his opposition of the plan, focusing on the innate Frick’s intimacy and the dangers of losing that unique quality in an attempt to upgrade and possibly compete with other museums, calling it:
“falling prey to the bigger-is-better paradigm.”
Wall Street Journal contributor Julie Iovine, just wrote an op-ed saying why she thinks the Frick’s plan isn’t all THAT bad. Iovine’s argument was that, yes, it’s a shame to lose Russell Page‘s garden but she points out that the museum’s grounds have already been altered and revised multiple times since Henry Clay Frick‘s time. Three adjacent townhouses were purchased and demolished as part of a previous expansion plan, which made way for the Page’s garden in ’77 –there were opponents then too:
“Change is messy; preservation must be balanced against needs, but also against quality of experience.”
Iovine goes on to say that the Frick needs the space to fulfill its mission as an artistic institution: to display more shows… to manage crowds for popular ones… to transport art safely through an entrance other than front door… and to provide greater access to the Frick’s existing six-story library, which faces 71st Street…
“The addition steps back as it goes up and will be no taller and just as visible from Fifth Avenue as the six-story library tower—which is to say, not at all. As hulking as it may seem in renderings, the addition is not even as tall as the three townhouses that once stood there. Central Park will be resplendently on view from a new rooftop garden. And as we are in the midst of a landscape renaissance, the opportunity to find a talent as distinguished as Russell Page to design that garden is great.”
Iovine proposes, the museum could consider having…
“the 60- by 80-foot garden transplanted to a site in nearby Harlem—where gardens are truly scarce and people might actually be allowed to sit in it?”
The Frick has this to say about all the controversy:
“The fact is that our plan will not compromise the Frick’s intimacy but will enhance it. The existing galleries will remain unchanged and for the first time a portion of the second floor of the historic mansion will be opened to the public as new permanent galleries. In the new addition, the Frick will gain more and better space for its education programs – including an array of programs, many free, for middle school, high school, and college students – improved conservation facilities, and be able to offer equal access to the building for those with disabilities.
… the 70th Street Garden will be replaced by a garden atop the new addition that will be open to the visiting public and offer views of Central Park and an outdoor space for contemplation.”
All good points. I see both sides. I am all for preservation. I’m sick thinking about the great buildings that have demolished in New York City, like the original Penn Station and scores of others. But I also see the need to have respectful change that services in institutions that march into time. The Barnes Collection was another huge fight and the outcome of the relocation of the collection now is widely seen as a success. The same goes for the expansion of the Isabella Stewart Garner Museum in Boston. I’m going to make a trip there to imagine this new expansion plan in 3/D and we shall see how this all shakes out…