Physically it has not gone far, five streets to the north and an avenue to the east, less than 500 meters on foot, but the trip that the Frick Collection has made in New York after 85 years , and the one that it proposes to its visitors, is kilometer.
While the sumptuous mansion on Fifth Avenue undergoes a process of renovation and expansion, the collection, with 400 pieces including paintings by the greatest European masters, sculptures, porcelains, enamels and other works of art, has been moved, for two years , to the Breuer Building , an icon of brutalism that was born in 1966 as the headquarters of the Whitney and that the Met had rented until 2023.
The financial difficulties of the Metropolitan helped to gestate the sublease for Frick. And for once you are welcome. Because as of March 18, Frick Madison will open its doors to the public , and New Yorkers, who during the pandemic have already had one of the few lifeboats in museums to keep their live cultural life afloat, as well as visitors who begin to arrive little by little as restrictions are lifted, you must prepare for a luxury cruise, a voyage of discovery.
It’s actually more of a ” rediscovery” journey , as Frick’s deputy director and chief curator Xavier Salomon has put it. Because the collection is the same one that Henry Clay Frick, coke and steel magnate, one of the fundamental figures of the age of “robber barons” and a man who loved art as much as he hated unions, began to amass it. the new setting allows, as Salomon says, “to deconstruct .”
Salomon and another of the commissioners, Aimee Ng, who in the pandemic made their weekly virtual initiative “cocktails with a commissioner” a success, explained that the definitive inspiration for Frick Madison came in Marfa (Texas), seeing the Chinati Foundation of Donald Judd . And the footprint is obvious.
Because if the mansion was packed with furniture, gold, velvet, marble and mahogany paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer, El Greco and Titian, Turner and Constable, to name just a few of the artists present at the Frick, in the temple of Marcel Brauer commune with the minimalism of the Hungarian architect.
Between the cement, on the walls now painted with only four shades of gray, the works of the masters are exhibited with a spartan sobriety but also with a simplicity, closeness and access that the Frick did not allow before. Also the sculptures, porcelains and furniture win their individual scene, organized in cases such as porcelain grouped by colors with the radical modernity of a common technique in the eighteenth century.
On each of the three floors, where the collection has been organized by geographical areas and schools and in slightly chronological order , everything breathes with space. There are no texts or labels , beyond the names and titles in the frames, and the information is only in the free printed guide or the audio guide.
In almost no case are there crystals, in none of the cords of distance (although the guards are in charge of saying if necessary “not so close, please”). And in a museum that, as in his old house, in the new one does not allow photography (nor visits by children under 10 years of age), everything is an invitation to detailed observation and leisurely delight.
Bellini in a new light
Few spaces in this Frick explain better what represents the change of scenery that the oil dedicated to the collection considers its jewel, the ‘ San Francisco in ecstasy’ of Giovanni Bellini. It hangs only in a room on the third floor, the one dedicated to Italy and Spain (where you can see four paintings by Goya, three by El Greco, a Velázquez and a Murillo ).
In front of the painting, in this space with inescapable echoes of a chapel, or a monastic cell, there is only one bench and to its left, from the same place from where Bellini gave his divine illumination to that of Assisi, the light of New York comes through one of the trapezoidal windows opened by Breuer to 75th Street. The mysteries of nature are on the canvas. Those of urban life, abroad. And here they join.
‘The New York Times’ has defined Frick Madison as an ” unexpectedly daring transmutation . ” And it is. Of more less. And less, you know, is often more.