Let the Frick Be

Why the proposed expansion of the museum is a bad idea.

Yesterday the Frick Collection announced a proposal for 60,000 square feet of new construction to begin in 2017 (if it were to clear all the many hurdles required to build in New York). The director makes the case for bridging the gap between the Fifth Avenue building and the 71st Street art reference library, a proposal that would mean adding six stories and a roof garden to the jewel-box institution.

Although there is plenty of time for debate, I will say right now that I believe this to be the wrong idea. I say so not only as an art appreciator, but also as a native of the Upper East Side, a practiced pedestrian, and a cyclist. To me the Frick is more than a house of art.

The museum is loved for its artworks and objects, its Goya, Manet, Rembrandt, French porcelains, Italian bronzes. But art within an aesthetically pleasing envelope is very difficult to locate in New York. Sure, there are pretty structures or handsome gardens or well-hung galleries with important art. To have all three in one place? That is a singular combination, and the proposed addition would destroy such harmony.

The 70th Street Garden: Tranquility at a Passing Glance

Whether or not the Frick actually needs six new stories, I leave to somebody else for commentary. For me, the heart of the problem is this nonsense about filling in the garden on the 70th Street side. Obliterating this garden (and presumably compensating for it by adding a roof garden) is misguided.

I grew up a few blocks from the museum, and today live once again on the Upper East Side. It’s not always a neighborhood that’s attractive, and some days, it seems to me the only respites offered by this neighborhood are the swards beyond the Frick’s wrought iron gates.

On the Fifth Avenue side, where I bike in from the Park, there’s a green stretch with three magnolia trees, and on the 70th Street side, after the left, there is the lawn with the pool with the lily pads. How often do I bike out of my way to pass these gardens? Often—in fact, almost every time I’m on my bike in that stretch of the neighborhood.

I mean, come on: How many lily pads can you find in New York, on the big, bad Upper East Side, no less? It doesn’t matter to me that the garden isn’t accessible to the public on foot; it is visually accessible. That’s more than enough.

Walkers—bikers, artists—in the city need such spaces. The eye needs a place to wander and to rest. This haven is part and parcel of what the Frick now offers and should offer as a museum. If you have a perfect jewel, why add more facets to it?

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