Save the Frick
I’ve been hearing too many stories recently about great design being changed or destroyed. The iconic 1960’s Hotel Okura in Tokyo is slated for demolition in September of this year. Real estate mogul Aby Rosen wants to make changes to the legendary Philip Johnson designed Four Seasons restaurant in New York. The gorgeous Rizzoli bookstore has already seen the wrecking ball to make way for another boring glass tower on 57th Street.
The one that I find really upsetting is The Frick Collection‘s plan to destroy the only new York garden designed by the famous British landscape architect Russell Page by building a new tower to house office space. It’s literally in my back yard and a place that I walk out of my way to see nearly every week. While the garden was designed in 1977 after the Frick bought and tore down a building next door, it has become a beloved part of the neighborhood.
As everyone online has already suggested, there are many alternatives that could and should be considered instead of destroying the garden. There are always townhouses for sale in the area where the Frick could move its offices to free up the second floor for more gallery space. Even if they bought one of the most expensive, it would still be cheaper than building an addition. They could also move the adjacent Reference Library and use that building.
What I fear is that the Frick has seen other institutions and museums renovate or build new buildings and they are attempting to keep up with the Jones. I honestly hate the Musée Picasso’s renovation. I’m afraid to step foot in the Cooper Hewitt to see what they’ve done with their mansion. I don’t even like what they did to renovate the Barney’s store on Madison Avenue. Not everything needs to be modernized or changed. How would we feel if someone tacked on a building to the White House and destroyed the Rose Garden? Or did something similar to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello?
I visited The Metropolitan Museum of Art today and while I love it, we can all agree that it is overwhelming and crowded. The best part of the Frick is the intimate house setting. You can easily see a small show in an hour and not fight hoards of tourists to do so. It’s a jewel box. It feels like a real house because it was a real house. Founder Henry Clay Frick clearly specified “that his New York house have ‘plenty of light and air,’” and the museum’s original Trustees sought to preserve the “residential character” of the house. I would hope the current trustees would understand the importance of something beautiful whether it’s a painting, a building, or a garden.
As Michael Kimmelman wrote in The New York Times last year, “The garden, from 1977, is the only work in the city completed by the great British landscape architect Russell Page. It was conceived not to be entered but as a tableau to be viewed from the street and the museum’s reception hall. Page took time to get the layout right: a rectangular pool, with floating lotus and white lilies in summer, surrounded by pea gravel paths and boxwood.” It’s an oasis of calm in an increasingly chaotic city even if you can’t sit inside.
The bottom line is that almost everyone hates the current expansion plan. I’ve already stated that I won’t set foot in their museum ever again if the destroy the garden. And I know I’m not alone. A group of artists have already written to the Mayor which you can read here and there is also a group called Unite to Save the Frick. Another group will stage a “paint-in” on Monday, May 11th at 11:30am to protest the proposed design.
If you too are opposed to the Frick’s plan to destroy the Russell Page garden, I hope you will also protest, write a letter, or sign a petition. I think we owe it to the old Madison Square Garden that was torn down to make way for an ugly building to preserve another beautiful site that needs to be saved.