The Frick’s Longtime Director Ian Wardropper Will Step Down in 2025

Wardropper will oversee the museum's return to Fifth Avenue after major institutional changes and a years-long renovation.

Frick Museum director Ian Wardropper. Photo by Richard Renaldi. Image courtesy The Frick. ©Richard Renaldi.

It may come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the twists and turns of the Frick Collection in recent years—as it has navigated a major temporary move-out, years-long renovation, and planned return to its storied Fifth Avenue mansion and overhauled headquarters—that the director who oversaw it all for the past 13 years is stepping down.

The Frick Collection announced today that Ian Wardropper, whose official title is Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen director, will retire in 2025 after what will have been a total of 14 years of service to the Frick and a 50-year museum career.

“Wardropper led the museum and library through a period of strategic and measured growth, which included the first comprehensive renovation and upgrade of the Frick’s historic buildings in nearly 90 years and a focused acquisitions program that has enhanced the institution’s art and library collections. He also prioritized accessibility and public outreach,” according to the Frick’s statement.

Indeed, in an interview with Artnet News roughly a year ago, Wardropper said: “Consider that, in the beginning, I thought the whole collection would have to go into storage for three years,” a reference to pre-pandemic mid-2018, when the museum scored a hard-fought win, finally getting the green light for its ambitious expansion plan, after an earlier unsuccessful proposal.

The facade of Frick Madison. Photo by Joseph Coscia Jr.. Image courtesy The Frick.

The facade of Frick Madison. Photo by Joseph Coscia Jr.. Photo courtesy The Frick.

However, instead of the lights going dark and the world-class collection of art getting tucked away into storage for a while, a fortuitous art world turn occurred. In June 2020, the Metropolitan Museum of Art decided not to continue operating its Met Breuer outpost in the Whitney’s former Madison Avenue home, and the Frick leapt at the opportunity to take over the space. The museum moved its collection there in late 2020 and Frick Madison was born. The doors opened in early 2021.

Further, the Frick also immediately took advantage of some related “dispensation” freedoms amid the temporary move to make important, unprecedented art loans to prestigious museum shows in the U.S. and abroad, including the blockbuster Vermeer show at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam that opened to sell-out crowds this past Spring.

Wardropper is also credited with deftly navigating through the pandemic with digital initiatives like the wildly popular “Cocktails With A Curator” online video series that eventually became a book, and spearheading broader outreach to audiences. As he told Artnet News: “One of the big challenges for more traditional museums—and we are focused on Old Master art—is the existential question of how do you get younger audiences interested in what we have. There is no one solution, so we’re trying all kinds of different things.”

Contemporary art interventions that predated the move to the Breuer included a series of exhibitions on contemporary artists who work with porcelain including Arlene Schechet and Edmund de Waal taking place at the mansion, and a third by Giuseppe Penone that was staged at the Breuer after the move-in.

Rendering of The Frick Collection from 70th Street. Image courtesy of Selldorf Architects

Rendering of The Frick Collection from 70th Street. Image courtesy of Selldorf Architects

This past April, the museum announced it would close the Breuer space on March 3, 2024 and spend the next few months winding down operations in advance of the return to Fifth Avenue and reopening later this year. The current show of Barkley Hendricks portraits, the first ever solo show at the Frick by a Black artist, will be one of the last shown at the Breuer outpost (through January 7).  There will be a gap of about six months where both sites are closed before the mansion reopens.

Meanwhile, as Artnet News reported this past summer, auction house Sotheby’s has struck a deal to buy the Breuer building from the Whitney for a reported $100 million, and plans to relocate its galleries and staff there in 2025.

According to the Frick, the board of trustees is working with an executive search firm to conduct an international search for the next director. In an interview with the New York Times, Wardropper expressed his wish that Xavier F. Salomon, the deputy director and chief curator, “will be one of the candidates,” adding that it would be great if the new director came from within the museum’s existing ranks.

Throughout his tenure, Wardropper successfully led key fundraising initiatives. Currently, he is overseeing a $290-million capital campaign in support of the Frick’s renovation and residency at Frick Madison and has raised $242 million to date—nearly 83 percent of its goal. Wardropper also worked to grow the board, which expanded from 18 to 24 seats during his tenure.

Prior to joining the Frick, Wardropper worked for 10 years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where his last title was chairman of the department of European sculpture and decorative arts. For 20 years prior to that, he was a member of the Art Institute of Chicago’s curatorial team, serving as the curator of European decorative arts, sculpture, and ancient art.

“These 14 years at the Frick will have been among the most rewarding of my career,” Wardropper said in a statement. “It has been a great privilege to realize these initiatives during my tenure, the reopening of our upgraded buildings being a highlight among many. Following my retirement from the Frick, I look forward to working on a number of scholarly and academic projects.”


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