Frick Collection Grows a Gallery

Strolling around the Upper East Side today, Gallerist popped into the Frick Collection to encounter a remarkable sight in that otherwise stable and stalwart museum: a brand-new gallery, the first such addition in 35 years.

The museum has transformed the building’s portico, just off of Henry Clay Frick’s library–to the left of Joshua Reynolds’s portrait of the alabaster-skinned Lady Skipwith (“a tour de force of variations on white,” the audio guide whispers)–into a slim gallery for sculpture and decorative arts, with just the addition of a series of thin glass walls that close it off from the outside.

When it comes to the Frick, Gallerist–like we imagine, most people–fears change. However, thankfully, the alteration here is subtle and elegant. It is just one more room to love in that palace of a museum.

Just before noon today, sunlight was shimmering through the portico’s glass walls, tracking the floor around Jean-Antoine Houdon’s bronze-hued terracotta Diana the Huntress (1776-95). She will be illuminated and visible from the street at night, according to the museum. Can you imagine a more romantic sight when out on a late-night walk? We cannot.

Look up when you are next to Diana: above, carved in stone that was once exposed to the elements are two wily and cherubic young children–one blowing a horn made from a shell. They are riding atop two fiercesome sea monsters, crashing through the waves. Through the windows, there are fine new views of the building’s stone walkways–all tans and reds and dark blues. What other treasures await our discovery, one wonders?

Designed by Davis Brody Bond, the portico gallery was actually first imagined by Frick himself, eager to show more of his sculptures in his home. He nixed those plans when World War I arrived, but more than 80 years later, his plan has, in effect, finally been realized, and his space is filled at the moment with 18th-century porcelain work from the collection of Henry Arnhold, a promised gift to the museum.

There are examples of chinoiserie and red stoneware, and a tiny gold-limned teapot whose spout is a wild fish held by a bearded man. But nothing seemed more thrilling than the two tall Meissen vases shaped like upright horns–their midsections wrapped with thin wire-like bars–that sit near one glass wall. They are “bird cage” style and date from some time after 1730. They were once in the collection of Umberto II, the king of Italy. Works like this are why we go to the Frick.

The lighting is subtle and unobtrustive, at least in the heart of the day (we at first thought the room was naturally lit), and was designed by Richard Renfro, who previously took care of that matter in the museum’s Fragonard and Boucher rooms, in 2006 and 2010–two other, slightly more modest changes that made the Frick just a bit richer.

Our masterpiece quotient fulfilled by the day, we wandered over to Castelli Gallery, to see a smart, quirky show of Lichtenstein’s depictions of mirrors and Warhol’s Shadow pieces, some diamond dusted, some tiny and more gestural than any we had seen before. Take a peek and then head to the Hirshhorn’s epic “Shadow” show. Only a month and a day remain!

Next up was Alex Zachary, whose current show, “Happy Holidays! Drawings!” offers work by a bevy of artists: a hotel-stationary piece by Martin Kippenberger and two late Francis Picabias sketches (amuse-bouches for Michael Werner‘s Picabia show down the street), a Kilimnik and a Calder, and three pink watercolors by Alissa McKendrick. Black polka dots cover Mr. Zachary’s walls, and there is a gigantic Christmas tree in that wild space. It smells fantastic.

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