A group of 54 artists and other art worlders has signed a letter asking Mayor de Blasio and Meenakshi Srinivasan, chair of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, to deny the Frick Collection’s proposed plan for expansion.
“Those of us in the art world who cherish the unique and tranquil ambiance offered by the Frick are urging the Frick to withdraw its proposed plan and consider alternative methods of expansion that would preserve the character essential to its appeal,” says the missive, which is signed by gallerists Paul Kasmin and Irving Blum, filmmaker Sophia Coppola, and artists Jeff Koons, Chuck Close, John Currin, Brice Marden, Frank Stella, Cindy Sherman, Deborah Kass, Cecily Brown, Lisa Yuskavage, Rudolf Stingel, and Sarah Sze, among others.
The Frick’s current expansion plan proposes to add 40,000 square feet to the institution, 3,600 of it for showing art. One of the most contentious elements of the plan is the destruction of a beloved garden, designed by landscape architect Russell Page in 1977, to make way for a new six-story wing. The institution’s reception hall, which was added onto the building in the 1970s, would also be demolished.
The new letter to de Blasio and Srinivasan focuses on these elements of the plan, saying:
The ensemble the Frick wishes to raze, composed of the Reception Hall Pavilion and the Russell Page-designed Viewing Garden on East 70th Street, is a masterstroke of the evolving museum’s design, positioning the mansion in counterpoint to the Manhattan street grid, and optimizing the “house museum” experience. Replacing the hall and garden with an institutional 106-foot tower will indeed destroy the famed Frick experience for artists and art lovers around the world.
Other critiques of the expansion — perhaps most vocally that of New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman — have also focused on the Frick’s intimacy and the danger of losing that unique quality in an ill-fated attempt to upgrade and compete with other museums; Kimmelman calls it “falling prey to the bigger-is-better paradigm.”
The artists’ letter was published by United to Save the Frick, a “scrappy crew of scholars, historians, Upper East Side advocates, aesthetes, bureaucrats, professors, heiresses, philanthropists, artists, gardeners, and descendants of Henry Clay Frick hell-bent on blocking the renovations,” Nate Freeman wrote in the New York Observer last year. The group is also responsible for an anti–Frick expansion petition on Change.org, which currently has over 4,000 signatures.
The Frick has not responded to the protests.
Update, 5/7: The Frick has reached out to Hyperallergic to note that several months ago it launched a website about the proposed expansion, “in response to the discussion of the project.” It also provided us with a statement, which reads in part:
The fact is that our plan will not compromise the Frick’s intimacy but will enhance it. The existing galleries will remain unchanged and for the first time a portion of the second floor of the historic mansion will be opened to the public as new permanent galleries. In the new addition, the Frick will gain more and better space for its education programs – including an array of programs, many free, for middle school, high school, and college students – improved conservation facilities, and be able to offer equal access to the building for those with disabilities.
The museum goes on to point out that “the 70th Street Garden will be replaced by a garden atop the new addition that will be open to the visiting public and offer views of Central Park and an outdoor space for contemplation,” and that high-profile supporters of the plan include former Metropolitan Museum of Art Director Philippe de Montebello and former Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Director Anne Hawley.