Artists Opposed To Frick Plan

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In a letter to de Blasio, they say that a proposal to expand the museum would compromise its intimacy


  • A recent photograph of The Frick Collection (above) juxtaposed with a rendering of the proposed plan illustrating the same view. Image credit: Neoscape Inc., 2014.

  • The museum's Grand Staircase. Photo: Michael Bodycomb, the Frick Collection.

The skirmish over the Frick Collection's expansion proposal entered a new front last week when dozens of artists, architects, journalists, gallerists and others signed a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the chairman of the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission urging them to deny the plan.

The letter, which was signed by Frank Stella, Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons and Chuck Close, among others, says that the museum's proposal would effectively destroy one of the collection's most precious elements — its intimacy.

“The Frick is revered for its wise curatorial and architectural decisions, and we hope that your guidance will ensure that it does not break with this tradition,” the letter, dated May 6, says.

The letter is the latest salvo in a yearlong tussle between Frick officials, who say the expansion is needed to meet the museum's need for more space, and those opposed, notably the umbrella group United to Save the Frick, which counts among its roster architects, artists, authors, preservationists, art and museum critics, and members of the museum.

The Frick, on the corner of 70th Street and Fifth Avenue, last year unveiled an expansion proposal whose centerpiece addition would rise to the height of a six-story building. It would be built on the 70th Street side on the site of what's now a decorative garden.

The museum says the extension would add 42,000 square feet and comprise an expanded reception hall, conservation laboratories, auditorium, classrooms as well as a rooftop garden terrace accessible to museum visitors. All told, it would add about 24 percent more square footage, which museum officials call “a measured — yet crucial — gain.”

Museum officials and the architects, Davis Brody Bond, say the addition would match the character of the original Gilded Age mansion, built by Carrère and Hastings just over a century ago for the industrialist Henry Clay Frick, and a 1934 expansion by John Russell Pope.

The proposal, though, quickly galvanized opposition, some of it pronounced, with United to Save the Frick saying the proposal would obliterate the Frick's “residential scale” and, consequently, its intimacy.

“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,” the letter reads.

As conceptualized, the group says, the plan includes minimal exhibit space and instead adds offices, a café, a larger gift shop and programming space.

It suggests numerous alternative design schemes, most of them below below-grade, that it says would allow the museum to expand while retaining its character, and the garden.

In a response to the letter, the Frick issued a statement saying that the planned expansion would “not compromise the Frick's intimacy but will enhance it.”

The artists' letter last week received an endorsement of sorts from The Municipal Art Society of New York, a planning and preservation organization, in the form of a letter from its director, Margaret Newman, to her counterpart at the Frick, Ian Wardropper, which also voiced opposition to the planned expansion, particularly since it would eliminate the 70th Street garden.

The Frick, though, has emphasized that the addition of a rooftop garden would leave the museum three gardens, including the one facing Fifth Avenue and the interior Garden Court.

A museum spokeswoman, Heidi Rosenau, said the Frick's proposal, which she called “conceptual,” is still being fine-tuned, such that it was too early to discuss any changes to the proposal since it was first made public.

“The idea as we approach (the Landmark's Commission) hearing is that we have to present a very detailed plan,” she said. “We need a really polished plan. So it's been evolving.”

The commission must approve the expansion proposal for it to go ahead. That presentation has not yet been scheduled.

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