Museum Note:
At the Frick


While my young friend looked at the pictures in the Living Hall at the Frick this afternoon, I stared out the window at the passing traffic on Fifth Avenue. If I lived in that room, I thought, I would always be looking out the window, and there would be no need for world-famous masterpieces to hang at my back.

After years of wondering what to say about art — given the fact that I have no technical training of any kind — I’ve suddenly realized that I’m as free to talk about art in the world as anyone is; my only obligation is to make interesting sense. With that perception, there is suddenly much to discuss. I’m fascinated, for example, by issues of authenticity. What does “counterfeit” really mean in the context of fine art? We’ll look at that another time. The issue that came to mind at the Frick was the matter of the private ownership of art.

I reached my position some time ago: The art world depends on collectors, so the purchase of works by living artists is only to be encouraged. When a work reaches its century, however — assuming that the original collector is no longer around to enjoy it — the public, in the form of museums and other institutions broadly open to everyone, ought to have the right to acquire it. (Let’s worry about valuation some other time.)

Quite aside from affording public access to major work, museums are also professional conservators, at least as a rule. Conservation is no less a function of the modern museum than display. Private owners are free to mistreat their holdings. I don’t see the interest in that kind of property right.

(Regular readers will see parallels to my thoughts about intellectual property — not as of yet gathered in one place; but this will serve for anyone interested.)

The time period might be extended for prints and other works that exist in multiples. In a weak moment, I might be persuaded to let heirs and assigns hold on to drawings, but they would have to beg most convincingly.

So, if I lived at the Frick — and, oh, could I ever! — I’d put a new entrance somewhere along 71st Street, to allow public access to what would now be the ballroom (and to the excellent Music Room), which I’d fill with rotating displays of new art. The Collection itself would be shipped across the street and up a few blocks, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art — from which it could be borrowed for shows at other institutions, just as all serious art ought to be. I wouldn’t miss a single famous painting.

I’d be looking out the window.

2 Responses to “Museum Note:
At the Frick”

  1. M.W. Nolden says:

    There should be more like you.
    By the way, technical training is highly overrated. You look at things with insight & I think your writings on art are extraordinarily perceptive. (You just need to do more…)

  2. M.W. Nolden says:

    Also, I think you might enjoy this writer.