Starting later this month, the landmark Breuer building on Madison Avenue, home to the Whitney from 1966 to 2014 and second home to the Met from 2016 until COVID sent them packing last summer, is going to function as an Airbnb of sorts for the old masters of the Frick collection. Dubbed Frick Madison, the museum now boasts more than a hundred works by the likes of Rembrandt and Goya, Vermeer and Velazquez, Van Dyck and Bellini.
It opens to the general public on March 18th, and will be entertaining guests for at least the next two years.
The reason for the temporary housing? Robber baron Henry Clay Frick's Beaux Arts mansion on East 70th is getting renovated--the upstairs bedrooms are being readied for public viewing, and there's a big new addition coming--so when the Met pulled out of the Breuer in June, the Frick's curatorial team jumped at the chance, and the challenge, of displaying these beloved works in modernist surroundings, the first time many of them have ever been shown outside of the sumptuous domestic settings of their mansion. In fact, some of these paintings hadn't been moved from whatever wall they were on for more than a century.
Another big change from the usual Frick viewing experience: here on Madison the collection is organized first by region (Northern European works are on the second floor, Italian and Spanish on three, British and French on four) and then in chronological order within each grouping. But despite the comparatively sparse and contemporary trappings, the galleries do manage to capture that signature Frick vibe of hushed reverence, thanks in part to the content of the art itself, but also due to simple tactics like a subdued gray color scheme and dramatic spotlighting.
Without the distraction of the gilded mansion and its ornate furnishings, Frick Madison really encourages deep viewing, especially since, per Frick tradition, no photography of any kind, not even phone snaps, will be allowed. And while the paintings are the main attraction here--in addition to the great masters mentioned above, you'll find works by the likes of Gainsborough, Whistler, Titian, El Greco, Hals, Turner, Holbein, on and on--there are also a fair number of sculptural pieces on display, as well as a sampling from the Frick's large decorative arts collection.
It all makes for a pleasantly lengthy and satisfying cultural experience. And for some sustenance before or after your art-viewing, the cafe in the lower lobby, which boasts a spacious outdoor seating area, is now a Joe Coffee, featuring all of the expected caffeinated beverages as well as first-rate scones and other pastries by Danielle Sespy of The Hungry Gnome.
Frick Madison opens to the public on March 18, with hours on Thursday through Sunday, 10:00 to 6:00 p.m. for now, and pandemic protocols (reduced capacity, timed-entry tickets, masks required) in place.