The Met Breuer is set to change shape again, and it’s a window into the museums and museum culture in New York City. As per a new agreement, the Frick Collection, which itself is a museum on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, will use the Met Breuer’s building on 72nd and Madison, which is on the East Side close to the Museum Mile neighborhood and Central Park.
The Met Breuer was designed by architect Marcel Breuer. For the past five years, the mission of the Met Breuer on 72nd Street and Madison Ave has been to showcase modern art as an extension of the Metropolitan Museum on 82nd Street. The big daddy Metropolitan is encyclopedic, so there a person might find ancient Egyptian architecture or 19th-century masterpieces. The Met Breuer could then use that catalogue when creating innovative exhibitions. In its Kerry James Marshall show, the Met Breuer curators were able to work with Marshall to show influences on that artist’s work. For a large encyclopedic show, such as the sculpture exhibition, “Life Like,” the baby Met’s existence as an extension of the Metropolitan was its reason for being, and a very good reason at that – because the show was so cool.
The Met Breuer took over for, and is still owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art. The Whitney moved into its new location from the Marcel Breuer’s building about five years ago. All of this is very young and very fresh in the lifespan of a museum, considering the Metropolitan itself is some hundred and fifty years old. The Whitney is known for cutting edge newer works, and so its directors may have been influenced by the Chelsea Galleries just north of the new Whitney. Although the art galleries aren’t a museum, they do have kinship that some of their artists inevitably make it into the major museums, and the galleries exist as a very-established institution even if they aren’t a museum. The new Whitney is also on the Highline Park, which is a park that has been reclaimed from being a derelict railroad.
The Marcel Breuer Building will host the Frick Collection during the Frick’s renovations, starting in 2020 as per a news release from the three institutions (The Met, The Frick, and the building’s owner, the Whitney). The Frick is different from the Whitney, or the current Met Breuer, or any of the institutions listed so far, because the Frick is a salon-based museum. Salon museums look as though one is entering someone’s mansion to look at art. According to David Carrier’s Writing about Visual Art, the notion of a museum as a historical meeting place for art is only about a hundred years old. Frick was a rich man, and used his house to showcase his collection. The ideas and concepts behind patronage in arts are extremely vast, so perhaps an overlap of the two conceptions of a museum – salon versus historical – might be the original J.P. Morgan, for whom the bank in the present day is named. Morgan’s own house became a museum like the Frick, and that today is the Morgan Library and Museum. At the same time, Morgan helped establish the Metropolitan Museum in the 19th century.
This survey of the three museums (Metropolitan, Frick, and the Whitney) and certain related institutions (the Morgan Library, the Chelsea Galleries) shows a huge breadth in what an art museum could be. There are many others, such as the Noguchi Museum or the Cooper Hewitt, and there are non-art museums that are very much important. Variety certainly is a joy for visitors and art critics.
The Met Breuer had and will have some awesome shows before its next station as temporary housing for the Frick. The Met Breuer had a very strange show earlier this year of abstract expressionist Leon Golub, and also photographer of the weird Diane Arbus. The Met Breuer had a large scale exhibit of Edvard Munch, and also Lee Friedlander protégé Raghubir Singh. Right now until January 2019, the Met Breuer has an exhibit of art with a critical theme of conspiracy theories. Conspiracies might be timely, but it would be a cool exhibit even if it weren’t 2018. The Met Breuer was also a rad place for a discerning art critic to go for free, supposing the New Museum or MoMA didn’t recognize his press credentials. The Met Breuer as a concept has existed for five years and in 2020 will become the Frick for a short while. The Met Breuer’s interim change, and the Frick’s interim renovation, might remind the discerning art critic of the time he went up to the Studio Museum of Harlem and found out that institution was under renovation. Going was a bit like being stood up for a date. The Met Breuer has been a place to experiment for curators and art critics alike.
Last month, the National Museum of Brazil burned. The scope and weight of the loss is incalculable. Over beers, someone might bring up the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, and nevertheless the mythical loss of the ancient library is nothing compared to a grounding knowledge of history and art. Art and history, in a museum, are visceral, palpable, tangible, in a way myths and legends are not. Four years into a formal love of museums through writing, the discerning art critic is still not fully aware why he loves each of the museums so much. At least one part of this dedication is a feeling of expansion and exploration. People talk about getting intentionally lost at the big Metropolitan, and that’s part of it. To a lover of museums, hearing about the Brazilian Museum fire is like hearing about a friend’s son or daughter dying.
Against these two museums “dying,” the National Museum of Brazil and the experimental interim museum the Met Breuer, the discerning art critic immediately and readily contrasts a museum culture that is dynamic, fluid, and very much alive in New York City. The museums in New York City and its sisters in the art world are incredibly engaged in culture and communications. There are hundreds of examples. The museums participated in a “swap accounts” day on Instagram earlier this year, where museums posted a sister museum’s art and history to their Instagram accounts. The curators constantly talk, research, and commune with each other, and a Robert Rauschenberg exhibit at the NYC MoMA last Fall made its way to the SF MoMA in the Winter of this year. The museums are cultural institutions for events, parties, and celebrations of all kinds. Finally, this favor of the Metropolitan and the Whitney to the Frick Collection is a symbol of dynamic professional courtesy. The tragedy in Brazil reminds one how desperate renovations and safeguards are needed. Good to know the museums recognize this, too.