The Frick's new vision for its past


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The museum's latest expansion proposal conceives of the viewing garden, formerly slated for eradication, as a centerpiece


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  • A rendering of The Frick Collection's reception hall, as conceived in a new expansion proposal, looking east toward the 70th Street viewing garden. Courtesy of Selldorf Architects




  • A rendering of The Frick Collection's reception hall as conceived in a new expansion proposal. To the left are the museum’s permanent galleries and to the right is the 70th Street viewing garden. At far rear, is a proposed special exhibition gallery. Courtesy of Selldorf Architects




The garden, after all, will stay in the picture.

Almost three years after folding up expansion plans that had met vociferous opposition, The Frick Collection this week unveiled a design proposal that would add roughly 90,000 square feet to the museum for its exhibits and programming, education and conservation endeavors.

Crucially, the proposal retains — and would restore — the museum's 70th Street garden, whose prospective elimination in the Fifth Avenue institution's 2014 expansion plans became a flashpoint for a coalition of residents, artists and preservationists. Opposition ultimately succeeded in getting Frick officials to retreat and start anew.

This new plan, conceived by Selldorf Architects, a New York City firm, would repurpose 60,000 square feet of the Gilded Age building and build 27,000 square feet of new space.

The viewing garden off of East 70th Street is now envisioned as akin to a centerpiece, viewable from a reconfigured lobby, second-floor store, café and classroom, and elsewhere within the museum.

The garden, created by the landscape architect Russell Page in 1977, will be restored by Lynden Miller, a renowned public garden designer who has worked on the Conservatory Garden in Central Park, Bryant Park and the New York Botanical Garden.

As with the previous plan, this one attends to what Frick officials have said is a pressing need for more space both for its permanent collection and special exhibits. It also adds resources for programming, education and conservation, as well as visitor amenities and accessibility.

The proposal, as before, would convert a suite of second-floor rooms into gallery space for the permanent collection. Those rooms were formerly living spaces for the industrialist and art collector Henry Clay Frick and his family, the original occupants of the mansion, which was built by Carrère and Hastings in 1914.

The conversion of the second floor, currently offices and meeting areas that have never been open to the public, would add nearly one-third more exhibit space to the museum. Access to the second floor will be via either a new bank of elevators or a new staircase. The original mansion's main staircase will also open to the public for the first time.

The proposal also envisions an education center and group entrance, to be built between the museum's main building and its reference library.

The construction portion of the project is budgeted at $160 million. Pending approvals from the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Board of Standards and Appeals, construction would start in 2020 and last roughly two years, said Heidi Rosenau, a museum spokesperson.

The Frick's 1,400 objects, including paintings by Goya, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Constable and Velázquez, could be exhibited elsewhere in the meantime.

“We are working that out,” Rosenau said. “We are exploring options as we speak.”

PRESERVING INTIMACY

The museum abandoned its 2014 plans, which included a six-story addition on the 70th Street garden's footprint, in June 2015 after residents and then a coalition of artists and others denounced it as intrusive and counter to one of the Frick's most alluring qualities — its intimacy.

Although museum officials at the time disputed that notion, this proposal doubles down on the Frick's singular grace and elegance.

“Our proposed design is the result of an unwavering commitment to maintaining the intimate experience of viewing art at the Frick that is unique and special to many — myself included,” Annabelle Selldorf, the architecture firm's principal, said in a statement accompanying the Frick's press release on the plan.

One of the previous plan's most prominent detractors, New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, applauded this latest incarnation.

“So much of what seemed in 2014 problematic about the earlier Frick plan when I pleaded with the museum to go back to the drawing board has been addressed here,” Kimmelman wrote on Twitter.

“Frick admirably listened,” he wrote. Selldorf's proposal “preserved what's great about Frick and fixed what wasn't, mostly backstage. The process worked.”

Henry Clay Frick, who began collecting paintings seriously about 20 years before building the mansion, had always intended for the home and his collection to open to the public. The mansion was converted into a museum and opened in 1935. This expansion and renovation would be the first comprehensive such effort since then, museum officials said.

The project is Selldorf's second involving a 1914 home by Carrère and Hastings on Fifth Avenue's Museum Mile: The firm also reconfigured the former William Starr Miller House, at 86th Street, into the Neue Galerie New York.

Betty Eveillard, the chairperson of the Frick's Board of Trustees, said in the press release that, together with Selldorf, “the Frick has set forward a plan that graciously ushers our institution into the twenty-first century while preserving our Gilded-Age grandeur and a sense of tranquility.”





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