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.

Esp

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Seeing DC: Summer Architectural Tours Of The Capital With NCAS

I’m heading off on vacation to Spain today, so blog posts may be sporadic, but you can check my progress by visiting my Instagram page

In the meantime, I wanted to share this opportunity for seeing some of the interesting architecture of Washington DC metropolitan region, if you happen to find yourself in the Nation’s Capital this summer. The National Civic Art Society will be taking a look at a range of styles and subjects, from the British colonial past, to the Founding Fathers, to the horrors of Brutalist architecture. Definitely worth checking out or sharing with someone you know!

National Civic Art Society 2017

“Our Classical Heritage” Tours of D.C.

The National Civic Art Society is proud to announce the launch of our 2017 “Our Classical Heritage” walking tours. These tours are fashioned for those who wish a greater understanding of why and how the District of Columbia came to be a classically designed city. You will learn of the ancient antecedents of our political philosophies, of the stylistic precedents of our architectural forms, and of the Founders’ classical vision.

About the tour guide: Michael Curtis studied classical architecture at the University of Michigan, and painting, sculpture, and engraving in Florence, Italy. He has been a sculptor for more than 25 years. Major commissions include The History of Texas at the Texas Rangers Ball Park in Arlington, Texas, the largest American frieze produced in the 20th Century, as well as portrait busts for the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Thurgood Marshall Building, and many other public venues. His specialty is portraiture and fine medals. His book Our Classical Heritage: A Guide to the Political Philosophy and Aesthetic Precedent of Washington, the District of Columbia, will be published in fall 2017.

Tours are limited to three hours in length and begin at 10 AM at the location indicated. The cost per tour is $10. NCAS members, students, interns, and Hill staffers may obtain free tickets by e-mailing info@civicart.org. You must RSVP in advance. If you have any questions, please e-mail info@civicart.org or call (202) 670-1776.

Tickets are available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/our-classical-heritage-national-civic-art-society-walking-tours-tickets-34436469407

Tour I: Washington, the Classical City — June 3

The ancient cause of liberty; the immediate reason for independence; the classical principle of our convictions; the aesthetic model of a civil society.

The National Mall, from the Washington Monument

The Washington Monument

The Jefferson Memorial

Meet at the southeast corner of Constitution Ave. NW and 17th St. NW.

***

Tour II: National, Political, and Personal Liberty — June 10

The various aspects of liberty considered in exemplary statues.

Lafayette Park, Lafayette Statue, et alia

Alexander Hamilton Statue

The National Liberty Memorial

Meet at the entrance of Teaism at 800 Connecticut Ave NW.

***

Tour III: Freedom and Sacrifice — June 17

A consideration of freedom, sacrifice, and the architectural style best suited to remembrance.

Lincoln Memorial

Vietnam War Veterans Memorial

Korean War Veterans Memorial

The National WWII Memorial

Meet at the west end of the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool.

***

Tour IV: Brutal Mistakes — June 24

Hubris and progressive misdirection; gradual abdication of citizen responsibility for morals and art; policy, an instrument to undermine traditional culture.

L’Enfant Plaza: Robert C. Weaver Federal Building, Housing and Urban Development, James V. Forrestal Building Department of Energy Building, L’Enfant Plaza Hotel

The Lyndon B. Johnson Department of Education Building

The Hubert H. Humphrey Department of Health and Human Services Building

Meet at the glass pyramid in front of the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel at480 L’Enfant Plaza SW.

***

Tour V: British America — July 8

We trace in Alexandria, Virginia our growth from quaint colonial villagers to benevolent masters of the world.

Carlyle House and Lower King Street Warehouses

Prince Street and Local Alexandria

The Lyceum and the Confederate Statue

George Washington Masonic National Memorial

Meet at the front gate of Carlyle House at 121 N Fairfax St, Alexandria, VA.

Demolition Delhi: Attacking Ugly Architecture

Recently the government of India decided to demolish several large, 1970’s Brutalist concrete buildings in the capital of New Delhi, in order to redevelop the land upon which they were squatting. All were located inside the Pragati Maidan, a convention and trade fairgrounds area which was inaugurated in 1972. They were typical examples of the bad taste and bad design that have come to dominate modern and contemporary architecture. And unfortunately, the major international institution which advocates for the preservation and restoration of old buildings has fallen to pieces in reaction to their demolition.

The Hall of Nations at the Pragati Maidan was a vaguely geodesic structure, consisting of a glass building covered by a honeycomb of concrete triangles. I suspect that it was an influential reference point in the matte paintings of the Klingon home world created for “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. The Halls of Industries were a series of four buildings related to the design for the Hall of Nations, whose interiors resembled the ice rink of a minor league hockey team. The Nehru Pavilion looked like nothing so much as a site for ritual human sacrifice, such as the Aztecs would have appreciated, had they access to poured concrete during their day. The buildings were linked by the type of vast, bleak plazas and ramps that one sees in other horrible places roughly contemporary with their construction, such as Boston’s 1960’s City Hall Plaza.

In reaction to the very sensible demolition of these awful structures, the World Monuments Fund launched an online campaign via Instagram, asking participants to nominate Modern buildings worthy of preservation in addition to those nominated by the Fund itself. Among the buildings being cried over by the Fund is this Soviet-style monstrosity in Montenegro, which should have been hit by a bunker buster when the Wall fell. As is often the case on the left when it comes to the arts, although the Fund has done much good in the past by drawing attention to historically important and aesthetically beautiful buildings in need of rescue, the idea that virtually everything needs saving, particularly when it comes to an architect whose identity is known and whose politics were of the left-leaning variety, is ridiculous.

Take the Fund’s reaction to the demolition and renovation of the hideous Orange County Government Center in Goshen, New York. The building was designed by architect Paul Rudolph of Yale, one of the founding fathers of the Brutalism that pockmarks the faces of most of our cities, towns, and college campuses like giant acne scars. There is not a single structure on the planet by Rudolph that can be described as beautiful, inspiring, or functional. All of them are ugly, all of them are constantly falling to pieces, and all of them deserve to be demolished.

Yet the Orange County building was described by the Fund as having a “distinctive façade”, which was unfortunately “stripped bare, leaving only the framework behind.” This was done as part of the County’s efforts to try to make something out of this giant eyesore, whose razing would have proved too expensive for the taxpayers to bear, in order to turn the building into something that actually works, rather than serving as an incubator for mold spores. In this kind of advocacy the Fund merely reflects the bad taste and mindless gobbled-gook philosophy of those who serve on their board of advisors and speak at their events. The late starchitect Zaha Hadid for example, one of the most overrated architects in contemporary history, actually argued that the ugliness and lack of functionality in the Orange County building was an expression of democracy.

The world is a far, far better place now that the Pragati Maidan buildings are no more. Fortunately, the nomination list generated by the Fund in response to their destruction can serve as a source of inspiration. One could do far worse, as a government official, than to go through the list of Modern buildings listed by the Fund, select almost anything built between 1955 and 1980 out of concrete and pebbledash, and slate it for demolition. I assure you, the only people who will miss it are those with the bad taste to have asked the public to ignore the ugliness and lack of functionality in these spaces to begin with, because somehow they know better than common sense would seem to indicate that they, in fact do.

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