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Frick Flick: CultureGrrl Video Tour of Off-Limits Upstairs Living Quarters at Frick Collection

One of my favorite parts of the Frick Collection’s controversial expansion plans was the commitment to opening to the public the historic upstairs rooms where the Frick clan lived 100 years ago.

Now that I’ve had the chance to climb those stairs, thanks to a tour that director Ian Wardropper offered to me and two other writers after yesterday’s press lunch, my excitement has yielded to disappointment.

Frick director Ian Wardropper at grand staircase's first landing Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Frick director Ian Wardropper, pausing at the first landing up the grand staircase
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

As you’ll see in the CultureGrrl Video, below, I gradually learned that precious little remains of the decor and furnishings that the Gilded Age inhabitants had enjoyed in their bedrooms and dressing rooms. Henry Clay Frick died in 1919, having engaged the architectural firm of Carrère and Hastings to design his Beaux-Arts mansion only six years earlier.

Here’s a view of the former bedroom suite, whose walls have been removed to open up space to accommodate meetings of the Frick’s board:

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Although these can no longer be regarded as period rooms, the museum’s top brass, who now use these rooms as offices, seem be at least a little sorry about being relocated to new spaces in the planned expansion. In fact (as you will hear), Wardropper is still thinking of claiming for himself one of the two best preserved rooms—Henry Clay’s former sitting room—now occupied by chief curator Xavier Salomon.

You’ll see another of the rooms now being used as an education space, because the current Frick has no dedicated classrooms—one of the many deficiencies that the renovation and expansion are intended to rectify. Another is to create direct indoor access from the museum to the Frick’s superlative library, in an attempt to encourage greater public use of its extensive resources. Conservation facilities will be purpose-built and more expansive.

They are now ridiculously cramped at 306 square feet:

Frick conservators at work Photo from Frick's slideshow

Frick conservators at work
Photo from Frick’s slideshow presentation

One of the most important goals is to create special exhibition space within the existing footprint, so that large chunks of the permanent collection will no longer have to be banished to storage every time a major show (such as the current Van Dyck retrospective, closing June 5) is mounted. A similar imperative drove the 2013 Renzo Piano-designed expansion of the Kimbell Museum.

An absolute necessity is making the place more accessible to people with disabilities—a problem that I myself encountered, thanks to my bum knee (as I explained at the end of this post). People in wheelchairs (not me) have a particularly hard time.

The new expansion design is still indeterminate. After the Davis Brody Bond design encountered rough political headwinds, the Frick went back to the drawing board and invited a number of firms to submit proposals. The architect selection is expected to be announced by the end of this year, with initial designs expected next year.

One thing’s for certain: They’re not going to mess with this Russell Page-designed garden which was vigorously and effectively championed by preservationists when it was threatened by the DBB expansion plan. To me, it’s charming but less essential than the purposes to which the Frick had planned to put the space.

Here’s how it looked yesterday from the Frick’s coat room/admissions area, with one of its orange fish surfacing in the middle and two ducks sitting as sentinels on its left ledge:

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

As we await further developments, come join me on the director’s tour:

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