Colorful and dynamic, he’s not. Strong on scholarly and administrative credentials, he is.
I was almost as surprised to learn that Ian Wardropper had been named to be the Frick Collection’s next director as I had been when I first heard, almost three years ago, that the under-the-radar chairman of the Metropolitan Museum’s department of European sculpture and decorative arts was on the shortlist for the directorship of that museum. It must have rankled, at least a little, when the Big Job went to a rising star, tapestries expert Thomas Campbell, who was one of the curators serving under Wardropper.
As for Colin Bailey, the Frick Collection’s second-in-command as associate director and chief curator (appointed as chief curator by Samuel Sachs II, the predecessor of current director Anne Poulet), it must also rankle that he was (according to Kate Taylor‘s and Carol Vogel‘s NY Times report) on the shortlist for director of the institution where he has worked for ten and a half years, only to be passed over in favor of an outside candidate who, according to the Times, was not even on the shortlist.
Bailey, as you may remember, was an inaugural fellow of the Center for Curatorial Leadership, in its intensive program to groom future museum directors and other top officials. (Another CCL inaugural fellow, Gary Tinterow, the Met’s chairman of 19th-century, modern and contemporary art, was also reportedly on the Frick’s shortlist.)
As you may also remember, Wardropper was in 1997 the hapless purchaser for the Art Institute of Chicago (where he was a curator and department head) of the infamous Gauguin Faux Faun, a contemporary concoction by forger Shaun Greenhalgh of Bolton, England. That sculpture’s accompanying documentation was also thought to be counterfeit.
In his 2007 Art Newspaper article on Wardropper’s whopper, Martin Bailey wrote:
Writing in Apollo in September 2001, Art Institute sculpture curator Ian Wardropper recorded it as one of the most important acquisitions of the past 20 years. He described The Faun’s features, as “bound up with the artist’s self-image as a ‘savage’.” That same month The Faun was displayed in Chicago’s definitive “Van Gogh and Gauguin” exhibition, which went on to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
That said, Wardropper has a long, distinguished track record of publications and exhibitions. I favorably reviewed his show (co-curated by James Draper) of two years ago—Cast in Bronze: French Sculpture from Renaissance to Revolution, defending it against a drubbing by Ken Johnson in the NY Times. What I didn’t tell you is that Wardropper came up to me at a subsequent press preview to thank me for what I wrote, saying that it had meant a great deal to him. I was both astonished and grateful, because few people take the trouble to tell me how they feel about what I write.
The Frick’s press release announcing his appointment says that Wardropper’s “scholarly catalogues on Italian Renaissance bronzes and maiolica are under way; and five volumes of a series on [Metropolitan Museum] department highlights are
in process.” Who will carry on this work after Oct. 3, when Ian assumes his post at the Frick?
The Frick also emphasized Wardropper’s administrative ability, including his having played “an increasingly involved role―along with trustees, director, and development colleagues―in the fundraising efforts required of large-scale projects, among them the multi-million dollar renovation of the [Met's] Wrightsman Galleries in 2006-07.