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All-in-All, A Good Plan at the Frick

In a place like Manhattan, I almost never want to see green space disappear. And that will be one upshot of the Frick Collection’s proposed expansion, which was announced this morning in a press release. To gain 42,000 square feet — which “will house more gallery space, an expanded entrance hall, additional space for the Frick’s world-renowned art reference library, new classrooms, a 220-seat auditorium, expanded administrative space, and updated conservation laboratories, as well as a rooftop garden terrace for museum visitors — the Frick* has to obliterate the gated garden to the right of its entrance on East 70th St. It’s generally not open to the public, but the Frick does use it for entertaining in the warms months.

Frick-Expansion-01ACI think the Frick does need more space, and I would love to see some of the mansion’s second floor open to the public, which it would be in this plan. Back in 2009, I daydreamed here about the Frick being given the adjacent townhouse, then owned by Aby Rosen, that once was home to the late Salander-O’Reilly Gallery. Well, that didn’t happen.

Frick director Ian Wardropper and trustees have hired Davis Brody Bond as the architect, and their plan seems sensitive to history. They have an excellent example two blocks away — when Ralph Lauren wanted to expand his story on East 72nd at Madison, he bought the lot across the street and hired Weddle Gilmore Architects to build it. Christopher Gray, who writes a weekly column on New York City’s architecture called Streetscapes, wrote:

Weddle Gilmore Architects has produced an assured and demure neo-Classic design, French in character. At the time of proposal it was challenged by some preservationists as a fake, but as it stands, it is magnificent.

I agree; it fits the neighborhood well, and the David Brody Bond design looks good too — as does the plan for using the expanded space (detailed in the release, as well as in this article in The New York Times).

So I wish the Frick well in its fundraising and I hope the community board and the landmarks commission approve.

As for the green space, the Frick retains its front yard as is. And Central Park, fortunately, is right across the street.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Davis Brody Bond

*I consult to a foundation that supports the Frick



  1. the nameless eye says:

    I do wonder a bit about the possibility of the institution’s character changing along with the building. The Frick’s greatest strength has been its permanent collection, and such a change may turn it into a more exhibition-dependent place. Other patron-based institutions such as the Gardner and the Morgan have done similar expansions in recent years, and though much improved it seems sometimes that something important has been lost, as if the new building marked a move away from the collection’s heritage and strengths. I suppose the consequences of a big change are known only several years later. That said, I do agree with you that the building as planned is sensitive to history, and I do have faith that the people involved will do their best to build on what they have in the current Frick.

    • You may not agree with my dissent elsewhere on this page, but I do want to express my appreciation for your having so eloquently expressed what may be on other people’s minds regarding the proposed Frick expansion. – Louis Torresa

  2. This seems like a very good plan to address some obvious problems at the Frick. At the moment, the Frick doesn’t even have the space to show it’s entire permanent collection; even great masterpieces like its Van Dyck and Rubens portraits have been in storage. And when it puts on exhibitions, with the hopes of drawing a crowd, it either has to shoehorn the shows into it’s tiny basement galleries or remove entire sections of the permanent collection (as happened when it emptied the East Room to show the loan of paintings from the Mauritshuis). More space will alleviate both problems and benefit the public.

    It’s doubtful that the character of the Frick will change. Unlike the Morgan, the Frick is defined by its stupendous collection of masterpieces. They will always be the best reason to go there.

    • the nameless eye says:

      I agree that more space could be a good thing, and I do hope that you are correct that the character of the Frick will not change. But I should point out that the distinction you make between the Morgan and the Frick could be refined a bit: the Morgan is in fact defined by a stupendous collection of masterpieces, but these masterpieces are of a different kind. In addition to Mr. Morgan’s office with its Old Master paintings, there are stupendous Old Master drawings, manuscripts, bronzes, ancient sculptures and seals, all of which are best experienced in an intimate setting and, since drawings and mauscripts must be protected from light, in temporary exhibitions and of course in the study rooms. So many of the glories of the collection are not as visible to the casual visitor as they are at the Frick.

  3. I wish I could be as optimistic as “the nameless eye” that “the people [at the Frick] will do their best to build on what they have in the current [collection],” but I can’t, not after having read this writer’s poignant reminder of the fate that has befallen similar institutions such as the Gardner Museum and the Morgan Library, both of which have recently undergone similar expansions. As “nameless eye” laments, “though much improved it seems sometimes that something important has been lost, as if the new building marked a move away from the collection’s heritage and strengths.”

    What would mark a move away from Mr. Frick’s heritage (which was fiercely protected in the succeeding decades following his death in 1919 by his daughter Helen, until her death in 1984) would be temporary exhibitions and education programs revolving around what the Frick (and the artworld at large) euphemistically refers to as “contemporary art.” As long-time ardent followers of the Frick (of which I am one) are aware, it has in the past and in the recent year or two already taken a series of small steps down the “contemporary” road. One need only consider how radically the expansion of Mrs. Gardner’s museum in Boston marked a move away from her collection’s heritage to imagine what that might mean regarding the Frick.

    Louis Torres, Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts)

  4. Regarding saving the character of the Frick, I think it is already in the midst of change because of the exhibits it is offering and the wider public it is attracting. It use to be a relatively static, removed institution and I took it for granted. Now, it draws a much wider public and the expansion is a response to handling that demand. The architecture firm Davis Brody Bond has a history of respecting historic institutions as it did with the restoration of the NYPL main building and the introduction of new facilities into its central core. It also ddsigned a very sympathetic small addition to the Frick itself with the introduction of the garden portico gallery which was done with great delicacy. I felt the side garden was a lovely breathing space for the building, but I balance that off with the chance to see more of the collection in more of the original building.

  5. According to an article in the NY Times by Carter B. Horsely (“Frick Plans Garden on Widener Site”), dated June 15, 1973, the Frick purchased the George D Widener mansion next door with the intention of demolishing it and eventually replacing it with a new wing. According to the article, “The Frick Collection plans to create a temporary 100-foot-square garden and terrace on East 70th Street to be replaced in 10 to 20 years by a new wing.” In other words, the garden on the Widener site was always meant to be a temporary measure. According to Horsely, in 1973, “The proposed new wing would not include new exhibition space . . . .” but rather support facilities. The new design seems to be much more ambitious.

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