The Frick Collection has replaced a controversial redesign proposal with a new plan, which will offer visitors unprecedented access to its holdings and revitalize its celebrated 70th Street Garden. Yesterday, the museum board approved designs by Selldorf Architects, which proposes to repurpose about 60,000 square feet of existing space and introduce another 27,000 square feet to the floor plan. The expansion will create 30% more space to display artworks and improve visitor circulation throughout the museum.
Originally built in 1914 as Henry Clay Frick’s private residence, the museum has been seeking expansion for many years. Its growth in holdings, attendance, and programs has placed new constraints on the space over the years.
This new plan, which follows three unsuccessful ones, “is the result of an unwavering commitment to maintaining the intimate experience of viewing art at the Frick that is unique and special to so many,” Annabelle Selldorf, principal and lead designer of Selldorf Architects, said in a statement.
Selldorf intends to leave the permanent collection galleries on the first floor unchanged, but introduce a new special exhibition space nearby. This will allow the museum to introduce temporary, rotating displays without taking works from its permanent collection off view, which it currently has to do.
For the first time, the museum also plans to open up its second floor. Originally used as the Frick family’s private living quarters, these rooms served as administrative offices in the 1930s after the house was converted into a public museum at Frick’s request. But transforming the second floor into additional gallery space was actually part of the original vision of the trustees of the Collection, according to the museum’s director, Ian Wardropper.
Visitors will be able to reach this floor by climbing the Grand Staircase, a magnificent set of marble steps that has never before been publicly accessible. In addition to the 12 new gallery spaces, they will be able to enjoy the museum’s first cafe, which will overlook the 70th Street Garden.
This green space, designed by the British landscape architect Russell Page in 1977, will remain a centerpiece of the new museum building. In 2015, the Frick made public a plan to remove the garden as part of its third attempt at expansion. The proposed design, by Davis Brody Bond Architects and Planners, envisioned using the space for a six-story wing instead. The backlash was swift and included strong opposition from a group of artists, including Jeff Koons and Cindy Sherman, who signed a letter emphasizing the value of the garden. The Frick, hearing its critics, abandoned those plans. Selldorf Architects’ proposal invites Lynden B. Miller, a preservationist and garden designer, to restore the space as Page intended.
Further expansions will occur behind the Frick Art Reference Library, which will be linked to the museum through a passageway. Selldorf Architects have also designated spaces for the Frick’s first-ever education center, a 220-seat underground auditorium, and new conservation laboratories. There’s also a focus on accessibility, with the addition of new ramps, elevators, and restrooms that meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
This will be the building’s first comprehensive upgrade since it opened in 1935 as a public museum, when architect John Russell Pope nearly doubled the size of the Frick residence. As the museum is landmarked, the project still has to receive approval from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. If given the green light, the project will break ground in 2020. It has a total budget of $160 million, and is slated for completion in two years.
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