Are art museums elitist? Should we protest the injustice of non-universal access to art? Occupy Museums, a contingent of Occupy Wall Street sure thinks so. A group of several dozen OWSers protested yesterday at the Museum of Modern Art, Frick Collection, and the New Museum.
Noah Fischer, organizer of Occupy Museums, writes:
For the last few decades, voices of dissent have been silenced by a fearful survivalist atmosphere and the hush hush of BIG money. To really critique institutions, to raise one’s voice about the disgusting excessive parties and spectacularly out of touch auctions of the art world while the rest of the country suffers and tightens its belt was widely considered to be bitter, angry, uncool. Such a critic was a sore loser. It is time to end that silence not in bitterness, but in strength and love! Because the occupation has already begun and the creativity and power of the people has awoken! The Occupywallstreet Movement will bring forth an era of new art, true experimentation outside the narrow parameters set by the market. Museums, open your mind and your heart! Art is for everyone! The people are at your door!
To be perfectly frank, I was initially dismissive of Occupy Museums. Don’t we have bigger problems to worry about? But I can’t find fault with wanting museums to put on shows that seek to enrich the visitor’s understanding rather than just make money. Then again, I seriously doubt that many museum curators choose their line of work for the paycheck.
Bruce Wardropper, Chair of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at The Met, will leave his post to become the new director of The Frick Collection, located just a few blocks south of his current job.
Artdaily quotes him saying:
“Since my earliest years as an art history graduate student in New York, The Frick for me has represented the highest standards of art display, research, and programs as well as the ideal institutional size in which to experience them. Decades later, it maintains this exemplary role, while expanding an impressive exhibition program, producing a rich body of publications and educational offerings, and furthering the Library’s already rich research initiatives and resources. With all of these observations in mind, I embrace the opportunity to join the Frick as its Director, all the more so, as I have found great satisfaction over the years in nurturing and supporting the activities of departmental and museum colleagues and in serving the larger agenda and mission. I look forward to the task of maintaining institutional excellence and the challenge of renewing its programs.”
Blah blah blah. We get it. He likes The Frick.
Let’s just hope that comment about “the ideal institutional size” holds true. Moving from a 1.6million square foot museum to the comparatively itty bitty Frick should be interesting.
Google Art Project launched yesterday to an effusive wave of rejoicing at this new integration of technology and culture. With the same systems and cameras it used to create Street View, Google has teamed up with museums all over the world to provide virtual gallery access and high-resolution, magnifiable images of some of the world’s best art. Zooming in to see the brushstrokes of the lion’s mane in Rousseau’s Sleeping Gypsy was like discovering the secret life of an old friend. I got chills.
But it would be absurd to say that seeing an image on Google Art Project is better than seeing it in real life as Parminder Bahra implied in a post for The Wall Street Journal’s tech blog.
Nothing can substitute the experience of being with a work of art– seeing its scale, its context, its colors undistorted by a camera. I am much more sympathetic to the idea of Art Project as a supplement to the museum experience, as related by Mike Collett-White at the L.A. Times. Maybe they will even team up with Smart History!!
As for the program itself—meh. It just plops you right into the middle of one of the galleries. And it is difficult to get my bearings without moving through a regular gallery path. Where’s the front of this thing? Have I missed a room?
And it isn’t THAT navigable. Trying to get around The Frick with my arrow keys, I kept accidentally moving out to the exterior on 5th Ave. The feeling that I am playing a computer game is only enhanced by Google’s suggestion that I create a virtual art collection of my own. Clicking around The Frick’s interior (I finally found the door), I feel pressure to collect as many paintings as possible so that I can earn cool points in the art world. Will future employers consider my skill as a digital curator?! Eek! Except the art choices are already limited; one can only add works that have been pre-selected by the museum. So, in The Frick, while I can add Turner’s The Harbor of Dieppe, I can’t add Veronese’s The Choice Between Virtue and Vice.
But Google Art Project will be a great tool for reference. I anticipate using it in the future to refresh my memory of a painting or its context. And I’ll be able to use images from the site, enabling me to forego the vulgar act of snapping a picture in the gallery with my iPhone.
Born of meager means, Mr. Frick went on to become one of the largest coke producers in Pittsburgh and subsequently one of the richest men of his time. (Frick’s coke was the fuel one burns to melt steel, not the white powder one puts up one’s nose)
With a soft spot for paintings by the old masters, Frick amassed a stunning collection of art with the intention of having his home turned into a museum upon his death. Not officially opening until decades after he shuffled off his mortal coil, The Frick inhabits a building no less beautiful than its art. Forget the anonymous white walls of MoMA and the vitrine-enbalmed objects at The Met, the art at The Frick is displayed in a gloriously decorated domestic setting.
After checking my coat and purchasing a student ticket (only $5 compared to the regular admission price of $18), I picked up one of the free audio tours and meandered down the main hall. I don’t typically like listening to audio tours in museums but The Frick’s dearth of labels, though instrumental in retaining its domestic atmosphere, makes the audio information a necessity.
I passed through several rooms of Italian religious paintings and then rooms paneled in rococo French murals. My favorite is the famous “Progress of Love” series by Fragonard and commissioned Louis XV’s mistress, Madame du Barry. They depict four scenes: childish flirtation, illicit rendezvous, marriage, and serene matrimonial love. Upon their completion Madame du Barry didn’t like them (the Neo-Classical style was in ascendance) and so, many years later, Fragonard added a fifth panel to the rest: a fraught forsaken woman banished by cupid. I guess he was a little bitter.
Moving through the dining room, library, and added galleries, I spied at least five Gainsboroghs, four Turners, three Vermeers, an oddly cropped Manet, several Rembrandts, and always another gloriously beautiful masterpiece on the next wall. Not to mention the furniture! The collection was not curated to educate or merely illustrate various schools of European art; each work was chosen because Mr. Frick thought it was beautiful and his keen aesthetic sense pervades the entire museum.
If The Metropolitan Museum of Art is an overabundant schmorgasboard of works, The Frick is a selective high-end dinner with smaller, richer portions. One gets more of an opportunity to savor pieces at The Frick without the guilt of not having seen everything one meant to see. The museum even has the perfect place to digest one’s feast of art; the Garden Court is one of my favorite spaces in the city.
That said, I wouldn’t go to The Frick with a group of people or spirited youths (children under ten aren’t allowed in). Visiting with one or two like-minded friends might be enjoyable but the atmosphere is definitely one of hushed reverence. And with your ear to the audio tour, there’s little impulse for conversation.
1 East 70th Street
Tues-Sat: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Sundays: 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
$18, adults; $12, senior citizens; $5, students with valid identification.
Children under ten are not admitted to the Collection.
On Sundays, pay what you wish from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m
Great for contemplation of European Masters, not great for lively discussion