Passing the Baton: New Met Leadership To Help Out The Frick

Some interesting art institutional news is emerging which will have a significant impact on (arguably) two of the best museums in the New York – which just so happen to be within a couple of blocks of each other.

The Frick Collection is possibly my favorite museum in New York: small but grand, elegant but welcoming, and mercifully free of the vast crowds that prevent you from actually seeing anything, as is so often the case at the Metropolitan Museum of Art just up the avenue, despite that museum’s gargantuan size. As regular readers know, the Frick been working on an expansion and renovation plan which, after many failed starts, at last seems to be on track to finally getting underway. In order for this to happen, the museum will have to close for a period of time; in anticipation thereof, staff had been searching for places to temporarily display some of the over 1400-piece collection, while the rest went into storage.

To the surprise of everyone, the Met has stepped forward and offered the Frick the use of Met Breuer, the former home of the Whitney Museum of American Art which the Met moved into not too long ago. The atrociously bad Breuer building, which the arts establishment of the present day love for reasons best understood by their psychotherapists, is still owned by the Whitney, but is leased to the Met until 2025. The Frick will become the Met’s subletter, a use which is permitted under the terms of the rental agreement.

The occupancy, which is expected to last for two years once construction is finally greenlighted at the Frick mansion, will allow the entire Frick collection to stay together in one spot as the renovation proceeds. It will also allow visitors the questionable pleasure of seeing beautiful art set in a hideous space. As Ian Wardropper, Director of the Frick, pointed out in an interview with The Art Newspaper, “I think in the beginning people are going to be really curious—what does the Frick look like in a distinguished Brutalist building?”

What, indeed. The term “distinguished”, incidentally, is one of those throwaway words that is used in artspeak for something old that no normal person actually likes, but which the art establishment uses to make you feel bad if you express the opinion that an establishment darling is utter crap (see also, Marina Abramović, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, etc.) But be that as it may, the fact that one will be able to go to the temporary home of the Frick and see some of their glorious works, like this, or this, or this, will be worth it if, at the end, a newly revitalized permanent home will be in the offing.

The agreement appears to have come about through the efforts of the Met’s brand-new director, Max Hollein. Mr. Hollein has taken over the bloated barque of the Met at a rather crucial time in its history; I’ve written about some of its recent problems under its previous director, in these virtual pages, as well as for The Federalist. While the museum plots a new course, and tries to right itself financially from the risk of tipping over, generating some income from the Breuer building seems like a good idea. It also shows that there’s a new captain on deck who’s determined to get everything shipshape.

Sorry, I got carried away with all of the nautical language there.

On Monday, Mr. Hollein gave a lengthy interview to ArtNet, talking about the past and future of the Met as an institution. One of the big takeaways here is that the Met, which has the unenviable mission of trying to be all things to all people – imagine trying to put the entire collection of the Smithsonian under one roof – needs to diversify to reflect the art and history of other cultures that are currently underrepresented at the museum. For example, the Met is well-known for its numerous galleries of magnificent Ancient Egyptian art, but only recently made the effort to coordinate and bring together its extensive collections of jewel-like works of Islamic art into a series of connected galleries. The Met has really lost its way in recent years, being more concerned about its popularity than its integrity, so refocusing on its core work of collecting, preserving, and displaying for the purposes of edification and education would be a very welcome development indeed.

In any case, good news ahead for fans of the Frick, and (hopefully) good news for the future of the Met, as well.


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