Forging a New Path for a Storied Museum Museums

| 29 Dec 2014 | 12:27

The Frick Collection’s current temporary exhibition “Masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery” has been received favorably by critics, including the New York Times’ Karen Rosenberg, but the East 70th Street museum’s loudest reviews of late are of its proposed addition, not the shows in its galleries.

Following the June announcement of a planned expansion to the landmark museum that includes a new, six-story building, opposition from critics and community groups has swelled. New York Times’ architecture critic Michael Kimmelman denounced the plan in July, as have preservationist groups. Unite to Save the Frick, a coalition opposing the addition, has garnered more than 3,100 signatures to date to an online petition.

This cacophony of opposition hasn’t lessened the resolve of museum director Ian Wardropper, who told this publication in October that he expects approval from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, a requirement for any exterior change to the landmark building in the Upper East Side’s historic district.

One of the chief concerns amongst the proposal’s detractors remains the loss of the museum’s viewing garden on East 70th Street, which would serve as the site of the new building. Unite to Save the Frick writes in its petition that “The Frick Collection’s Russell Page Viewing Garden is an important work of art—and an essential component of the museum’s cultural landscape—which must not be destroyed.”

Though architects with Davis Brody Bond, the firm behind the National September 11 Memorial Museum and the Frick Collection’s own portico gallery, are still revising the addition’s design, Wardropper believes the strength of the proposal will impress at the upcoming LPC hearing.

“I’m fully confident that we will get it through—we’ve given a lot of time for this,” Wardropper told Our Town during an October interview. “[LPC] will fully scrutinize this plan, but we feel this is a very good, strong plan, and it’s something that Landmarks will appreciate.”

Wardropper is no stranger to institutional changes, having worked on renovation efforts at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, though he’s never been at the fore of an entire museum’s contested expansion.

Those opposed to the project may have to wait several months to learn if their efforts have been successful. Museum officials are planning for a nine month to one year approval process, beginning with a presentation to Community Board 8, which museum officials don’t expect until at least February, with a formal hearing with LPC coming later in the winter or early spring.

So far, the museum has not revealed a price tag for the addition, though Wardropper expects to announce the anticipated cost once LPC approves the project, and, if all goes as he hopes, construction will begin in 2017. Frick officials expect to remain open throughout the three-year project, with an opening date sometime in 2020.

That is, of course, if the city approves the plan in 2015.