Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Frick garden is saved

Wonderful news for all who love the unique ambiance of The Frick Collection and its delightful Russell Page garden: The museum has announced today that it is abandoning its ambitious expansion plans, designed by Davis Brody Bond. The additions would have subsumed Page's elegant garden beneath a massive, six-story-plus addition (seen to the right of the entry in the above rendering) that also would have overwhelmed the original two-story, Louis XVI-style Frick residence, the heart of the museum, and left it a mere appendage.

The press release states that the Frick will regroup and develop a new expansion plan, and that the second-flooronce family rooms but today executive officeswill be converted to exhibition space. Having visited and dined in these rooms several times, we can attest that they will make excellent additions to the museum's exhibition space, though the executive staff will lose a magnificent perk and be forced from the old Frick residence.

The statement reads:

The Frick remains committed to furthering its mission by attaining its goals, among them having additional space for the display of works of art, including galleries on the historic second floor of the mansion, dedicated classrooms for education programs, updated facilities for the care of our art and research collections, and better public access between the museum and the Frick Art Reference Library. We also plan to improve visitor amenities in general while offering equal access for visitors with disabilities. At the same time, preserving the unique residential character and intimate scale of the Frick will remain our top priority.

Well, no one can argue with thatat least until we see the new plans. Part of the solution should be to rein in ambitions and ponder how best to enhance the Frick while ensuring that it remains what it isthe best small museum in the world, with an accent on small. Does the Frick truly need to expand both its mandate and its facilities to so great an extent as first proposed? Or will expansion destroy this unique house museum? After all, the Frick is a house, albeit a grand one, and to ensure success in this venture, those guiding it must not lose sight of that fundamental, defining fact. Logic and moderation counsel that the Frick should maximize its existing assets, purchase or lease administration space adjacent to the property and seek creative and judicious rationalization of the built fabric it already has.

In the meantime, we can all rejoice that Page's oasis of verdant civilization has been spared from New York's relentless redevelopment mania. The Frick is unique and should be thoughtfully preserved; after all, what other building in New York can boast its own front yard bordering Fifth Avenue and Central Park?