Gilded Age grandeur meets Brutalism

Rendering of The Frick Collection from 70th Street, courtesy of Selldorf Architects
As The Frick Collection's expansion and renovation plans move forward, the museum seeks a temporary home at The Breuer

Frick Collection officials are in discussions with their counterparts at The Met about moving a selection of The Frick's works into The Breuer building while renovations and an expansion take place at the Gilded Age mansion on Fifth Avenue.

Under a provisional agreement, some of The Frick's Old Masters collection and amenities would move into The Breuer in 2020.

“I didn't expect to be engaged in a discussion about an entire building that would allow us to show the collection, host education programs, offer library services, store the collection, and have staff under one roof.” Ian Wardropper, The Frick's director, said in a statement. “That the Breuer is architecturally significant, purpose-built as a public museum structure, and in the same neighborhood as us adds further to the appeal. It feels like an amazing number of factors have aligned.”

The arrangement would free The Met to refocus resources toward enhancing the modern and contemporary galleries at its Fifth Avenue flagship.

The discussions follow the Landmarks Preservation Commission's approval in June of The Frick's latest renovation plan — a major milestone for the museum in its long-sought effort to expand.

In 2015, public outcry — mostly regarding the proposed elimination of The Frick's beloved Russell Page Garden — led The Frick's board of directors to withdraw and ultimately revise the initial renovation plan.

The recently approved plan — designed by architect Annabelle Selldorf in collaboration with architecture firm Beyer Blinder Belle — features the garden as the centerpiece of the renovation. The plan also includes an expansion of the museum shop as well as a new second floor above the reception hall, a café and an education center.

The Frick must still secure approval from the Board of Standards and Appeals before work can begin.

“We anticipate submitting our application in October. We cannot make any assumptions about the duration or outcome of this process, which often involves many visits over a period of months.” said Heidi Rosenau, a spokesperson for The Frick.

From Beaux-Arts to Brutalist

While it may be located only five blocks away, the Brutalist-style Breuer building is a far cry from the Beaux-Arts sensibilities of The Frick.

What might it look like when Jean-Honoré Fragonard's “The Progress of Love” from 1772 leaves the gold-trimmed walls of the airy Fragonard Room for the Breuer's harsh lines and concrete?

“This is a very exciting opportunity to see our works in a different space and perhaps install them in ways we don't here (i.e. chronologically or by school) but no determinations have been made yet as to what we will do,” Wardropper said in his statement. “We look forward to fleshing out those conversations once our discussions with The Met have concluded.”

During The Frick's provisional stay, The Met would remain official stewards of the property, which in turn is still owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art. It's not yet known what the Whitney intends for the Breuer when The Met's lease expires in 2023.

After the Whitney relocated to Chelsea in 2015, the Breuer's flexible lighting and minimalist, moveable panels provided at fitting space for The Met's experimental exhibitions of 20th and 21st century art.

The Frick Collection, on the other hand, resides in the former residence of its founder, the Gilded Age industrialist Henry Clay Frick. Designed in 1913 by architect Thomas Hastings in ornate Beaux-Arts style — from which modernists like Marcel Breuer intentionally departed — the Indiana limestone mansion features unwavering symmetry, arched windows, whimsical molding and a bounty of neoclassical nods in its numerous, varied rooms.

Complete with oak paneling, Oriental rugs and abundant gold detail, The Frick envelopes its collection of Old Masters, 19th-century paintings, sculptures and decorative art in a unique, intimate distillation of Gilded Age life.

In contrast to the flexibility of the Breuer's galleries, the Frick mansion was designed from the start with the intention of displaying Henry Clay Frick's art and eventually becoming a public museum. Several of the collection's paintings and furnishings remain configured exactly as they were when Frick and his family still lived in the mansion.

With The Frick's works destined to reside in The Breuer for at least two years, one might wonder how the Renoirs, Goyas and Rembrandts will appear in an environment so vastly different from their carefully curated home.