Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Frick Collection = Unfrickinbelievable!

According to this Urban Dictionary entry, when a person does something completely out of the ordinary, those actions may be deemed unfrigginbelievable.

Given my affinity for puns, on a recent holiday visit to Manhattan I could not help but apply this term to The Frick Collection, an unfrickinbelievable private assemblage of art gathered by Henry Clay Frick. 

In his day (1849 to 1919), Frick amassed a fortune as a coal-to-coke conversion entrepreneur with ties forged to steel production.

His colorful life also included some savvy crisis P.R. moves related to the Johnstown Flood, union-busting, surviving an assassination attempt and missing his reservation on the maiden voyage of the Titanic when his wife injured her leg.

Frick also collected art -- lots of art -- and he built an enormous mansion on the east site of Central Park to display his paintings, furnishings, carpets and sculpture ... sort of the early 1900's residential version of Alice Walton's Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (the unfrigginbelievable modern entry from Bentonville, Arkansas).

With thanks to The Frick Collection media relations team for the blogger ticket on short notice, presented below are a few notes on the experience and why anyone heading to New York should make time to join the museum's 300,000 annual visitors. 

First, the building. 

Like an introvert at the prom, the mansion sits quietly on the east side of Fifth Avenue a few blocks south of its extroverted neighbors the Guggenheim Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Frick can dance like the best of New York's art destinations, and the Collection features a few moves rarely seen anywhere stateside or abroad.

Entering the museum from 70th Street, just inside visitors find a gorgeous enclosed courtyard. After an early morning flight and long, chilly train ride in from JFK, this was a comfortable, quiet and surprising tropical oasis in which to briefly recharge before exploring the galleries.

Amazing awaits in almost every room. The Frick displays not one but three Johannes Vermeer showstopping canvases. 

I must have spent an hour (20 minutes each) studying these magnificent paintings -- "Officer and Laughing Girl" is easily my favorite of the bunch, but I loved "Girl Interrupted at her Music" and "Mistress and Maid" as well. For this blogger, the Vermeer trio alone warrant a special trek to The Frick. 

But wait, there's more!

I lost count of the Rembrandt portraits, the Turner nautical scenes and El Greco images. Turn through a doorway and (ta-da!) there's a Renoir of parading youngsters, a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, and numerous works by James McNeill Whistler. 

Degas, de Goya, Manet ... the major artist list goes on and on.

Lush furnishings, tapestries, carpets and objects adorn each room, with many areas decorated as Frick intended during his few years in the residence. 

One bronze that caught my eye -- an Italian work titled "She-Wolf" -- is reminiscent of the Rome 1960 Olympic logo. A peek at the online collection shows a Frederick Remington "Bronco Buster" bronze is another Frick acquisition though not currently on view (something I'll seek during a future visit).

The oldest item I spotted was an enamel work created in the years 1308-11 titled "The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain" -- gorgeous, and so rich with detail. The largest object I noted is a giant female figure of "Diana the Huntress" displayed near several large windows (this fully nude form is perched in a manner that almost showcases the bright side of the moon to passersby on Fifth Avenue). 

Though I did not use the museum audio guides (included with admission) nor the Frick app (very helpful post-visit, and recommended pre-visit), I spoke with three of the docents who enthusiastically answered my questions about several works and clarified The Frick did not loan objects nor paintings for Cultural Olympiads. 

The best conversationalist on site is the Frick employee named Lauren (sadly, I did not catch her title), a Michigan native who came to the Frick by way of the Detroit Institute of Arts -- she is one smart woman and just might be related to Debra Winger or Zoey Deschanel in the classy, dark-haired, blue-eyed department. 

Lauren knows a thing or two about Vermeer; The Frick hosted "Girl With A Pearl Earring" just after then-client the High Museum of Art's tour stop for "The Dutch Mona Lisa" a couple years back, and it was clear Lauren did some homework about loaned works from The Netherlands. 

In addition to swapping art stories, Lauren recommended an excellent neighborhood eatery, Via Quadronno, for a late lunch. Walking back from the cafe, I stumbled upon a Madison Avenue gallery with some Linda McCartney photographs and a shiny Roy Lichenstein "Bonsai" sculpture in the window (unfrigginbelievable!) -- something to pick up the next time I have $2.4 million handy in New York.

Exterior photos of The Frick Collection and Gagosian Gallery by Nicholas Wolaver. All art images via The Frick Collection online galleries except the Johnstown Flood image (not a Frick item) via this gallery

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