Visit the Frick Madison, New York’s newest cultural monument
For the past 100 years, stepping into the exquisitely preserved rooms of the Frick Collection mansion on New York’s Fifth Avenue has been like stepping into a gilded time capsule.
It was both the museum draw, which has remained largely unchanged since it opened in 1935, and a mistake: many of the spectacular bronzes, delicate Sèvres porcelain, and even masterpieces by Goya and Rembrandt came uncomfortably close to the decoration of the many pieces the collection of superlatives have been combined into a larger, lush whole.
“That is the point of a house (museum),” says the deputy director and chief curator of the Frick, Xavier Salomon.
For the next two years, however, this restriction was lifted while the mansion was expanded. During that time, the collection moved a few blocks away to the former Whitney Museum of American Art building on Madison Avenue and 75th St.. (When the Whitney moved downtown, it rented the space to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which it called the Met Breuer; the Met prematurely canceled its lease due to budget constraints.)
While the Frick typically exhibits 470 objects, only 300 are on display in the new room, known as the Frick Madison. And in contrast to the elegant interiors of the Frick, the walls of his makeshift house have only four shades of gray. In other words, distractions from art are gone.
The result is breathtaking.
“I hope people who know the museum on One East 70th Street well come here and rediscover things,” says Salomon.
“You will find that you have never really looked at things; you will literally see them under a new light, in very different ways.”
The collection will be open to the public on March 18th. Advance reservations are required.
The Frick Madison showroom extends over all three floors of the building.
“You always come across a three-dimensional object on every floor,” says Salomon. First of all, he wanted the bases to be concrete, “which is actually impossible due to their weight and a number of other things.” Instead, “they’re plastered to look like concrete,” he reveals.
The Frick Madison is designed as a one-way tour of the collection (visitors move counter-clockwise) as opposed to a free flowing space where people can wander back and forth.
As a result, the Frick curators paid close attention to the transitions from room to room and carefully staged each view. Annabelle Selldorf, the architect who designed the extension of the Frick manor house, consulted with curators about the use of the space.
“If you go backwards,” says Salomon, “you will come across a lot of empty walls.”
The floors are divided according to chronology and art school. “Which is, in a way, the most boring trail,” says Salomon. “Most museums do that, but we never had.” This way you can actually get a feel for where the strengths of the collection lie. “
The Holbeins are in a room on the second floor with early Dutch art; Next comes a room of Dutch art that leads to Rembrandt.
The pictures in the All Rembrandt room are usually, says Salomon, “all together in the West Gallery (Frick Mansion’s). You see them with a lot of other things, but the opportunity to see them individually, focusing on each one . ” is something that has never happened before, “he says.” It’s extremely exciting. “
“We went backwards a bit,” says Salomon of this strategy. “Usually you have a building and then you have to bring art into the space. But here we created the spaces around the groups of paintings that we wanted to show in each room. “
Visitors will find that there are no wall texts or labels in the galleries. The name of the artist is on the frame. For any other context, visitors need to refer to the audio guide or visitor’s booklet.
Likewise, there are no stanchions or barriers and only a handful of display cases, meaning visitors can be within a hair’s breadth of the priceless objects on display.
When asked if the organizers were concerned that visitors would come too close, Salomon noted that “we have very violent guards”.
The Bellini is in a room by itself, for example in a chapel-like setting, says Salomon.
“The Bellini is the largest work of art in the collection, and we wanted this to be on its own, with nothing else.”
Before that, the painting hung behind furniture; Now visitors can admire it without visual interruption.
“Bronzes are all over the Frick,” says Salomon. “On every shelf, on every table, which basically makes them completely invisible.” So we decided to force people to look at bronzes. So you have a room that is all about bronze. “
Most of the works are Italian, but there are also some Northern European objects.
“There are moments that are really random but that I really like,” says Salomon. “You have Goya’s forge with the metalworkers, and then you see the bronzes” on the periphery.
All nine Spanish paintings that Frick acquired during his lifetime can be seen.
“The fourth floor is dedicated to France and Great Britain,” says Salomon. Why? It has double high ceilings. “Most of our French and British images are much taller than the others.”
At Frick, the china is usually placed on furniture; In the Madison Avenue building, however, the curators felt this was too house-like and instead put the china on floating displays.
This vase, which is called the Vase Japon but has nothing to do with Japan, is based on a book with woodcuts from the Chinese imperial collection that the Emperor of China donated to the Sèvres manufactory. One vase was sent to the emperor as a gift, two were bought by the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the last belongs to the Frick.
The gold chains, says Salomon, were made by the goldsmith who was making jewelry for Marie Antoinette at the time.
Initially, says Salomon, his colleagues resisted a minimalist tendency. But after a trip to Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, where they could see the beauty of a single object in a huge room, “they all came back completely converted. It got to a point where I thought,” We have 10 things? Let’s do it five. Let’s do two. We started cutting everything up. “
In a particularly intimate room, four full-length portraits of the American-born British painter James McNeill Whistler surround the viewer.
“I think we’ve used this line many times and it’s supercheesy, but it’s true,” says Salomon. “It’s a collection of masterpieces, so we can really afford to have a lot of works individually on walls because they hold those walls so well.”
“So Fragonard made these four pictures for Madame du Barry (Louis XV’s last mistress) in the 1770s,” explains Salomon. “They’re installed in her pavilion outside Paris and she hates them.” They’re rejected, she sends them back to Fragonard, and then he keeps them in his studio for 20 years. “
While these panels are “out of order” in the Frick’s normal Fragonard room, the organizers created a room roughly the size of the original pavilion – the window in the Madison Avenue building is roughly at that same place as an original window – and arranged them here in the correct order.
“You can get very close to that,” says Salomon now. “The flowers are amazing the way they are painted.”
“This is a place where you can come and only do one floor if you want,” says Salomon. “You can just focus on French art and then come back another day for Italian art or whatever.”
“That kind of contemplative experience with the artwork was something that happened in the house,” he continues, “but I think this is happening in a different way here.” – Bloomberg