Frick Garden Was Meant to Be Permanent

The Frick Collection Russell Page garden. Photo: Henk van der Eijk, via Flickr.

New York’s Frick Collection has been caught out in a lie: the gated garden designed by British landscape architect Russell Page, a likely casualty of the museum’s proposed expansion plan, was not, as the institution has claimed, intended as a interim use of the space. Instead, reports the Huffington Post, the initial 1977 press release announcing its opening described it as a permanent garden created after plans to build an additional building there were abandoned.

The Frick now intends to build a Davis Brody Bond-designed Beaux Arts-style extension where the garden currently stands, bridging the gap between the museum and its East 71st Street reference library (see “Will Massive Expansion Destroy Beloved Frick Museum?“). The plan has attracted significant criticism, both here on artnet News (“Let the Frick Be“) and from other media outlets, such as the New York Times.

Like the proposed new building, Page’s design employs the same Indiana limestone as the original mansion. The garden gate originally stood at the home’s main entrance drive, and the garden walls feature carved stone reliefs that were part of the east wall before the building was converted to a museum in the 1930s.

The Huffington Post also points out that many of Page’s gardens had disappeared over the course of his life, and that Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry’s Garden Guide: New York City alleges that the Frick was “one of a number of public projects the English designer undertook at the end of his life, hoping to preserve his reputation for posterity.”

The Frick has been downplaying the significance of the garden, because it is not usually publicly accessible. However, Page intended the space as a viewing garden, to be enjoyed from the street and from inside the museum. Indeed, at the time of Page’s death in 1985, the New York Times called the garden one of his “most important works.” Hopefully, it will continue to be so.

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