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Museum Musical Chairs (again): Frick to Sublease Building That the Met Leases from Whitney

My 2011 Museum Musical Chairs post now has an unexpected sequel—the “Frick Breuer.”

As foreshadowed in my recent interviews with Ian Wardropper and Max Hollein, their respective directors, the Frick Collection and the Metropolitan Museum have just announced (here and here) that the Met hopes to decamp from the Whitney Museum’s former flagship building in 2020. The Frick would become the new temporary tenant to 2023), using the space to store and show some of the art that will be evicted from its building when it begins its planned expansion and renovation.

Ian Wardropper in his office at the Frick
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

The realization of the plan for the Frick to sublease the building (which the Met now leases from the Whitney) is still dependent upon the Frick’s obtaining the necessary public approvals for its project, according to the Frick’s announcement. The temporary move from Beaux Arts to Brutalist, may inspire the Frick to “come up with some interesting ways to show our collection, which we would never do here because of the nature of the display at the Frick,” as Wardropper had told me when I interviewed him back in July about plans to lend to collection to other institution while the Frick’s building is closed to the public. (He reiterated that notion in an interview with Art Newspaper for its today’s article on the Breuer plan.)

The Met’s press release today reiterated Hollein’s previous comments to me that “it makes no sense for the Met to have a permanent satellite for modern and contemporary somewhere else. Modern and contemporary art need to be part of the overall narrative of the institution….The answer to the question of what modern and contemporary art means at the Met and what kind of narrative the Met puts forward in modern and contemporary art will be done as part of the canon at Fifth Avenue.”

Max Hollein at the press preview for “Jack Whitten”
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

The big news for the Met (aside from its ability to offload to the Frick some of the costs of leasing and running the Breuer) is that it is “now ready to reengage with architect David Chipperfield’s plan for expanded and improved modern and contemporary galleries,” in the words of Met president Dan Weiss. In her NY Times article today, Robin Pogrebin revealed that the architect’s revised design, still a work-in-progress, will be somewhat less ambitious that the original, in both cost and scope.

This seems like a clear win for the Frick and provides some relief for the overextended Met. Still TBD—the Whitney’s long-term plans for its (temporarily?) cast-off building. One thing’s for certain, as the Met’s spokesperson confirmed to me today: The Met will not exercise its option to renew its lease.

More to come…

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