Rembrandt! Van Dyck! Goya! Degas! These names sang wonderfully in their golden plaques on filigree frames. I couldn’t help but stare a little harder at these paintings, shimmering in their aura of fame, the large and gently cracked faces caught my attention as I tried to decipher how these paintings made the painter who he is today. I stared particularly hard at Rembrandt’s self-portrait from 1658, which surprised me. His gaze bored into mine as I turned a corner on the second floor. I had no idea about it iconic piece belonged to the Frick Collection, and around every corner and as I entered every new room, another pair of awe-inspiring oil-on-canvas eyes bored into mine.
All the air above Frick Madison – temporary but refined – is of high class and authority. How could these works of art, collected by late 19th century industrialist Henry Clay Frick, not exude the same Golden Age energy? The visitors were almost mute, photos weren’t allowed in galleries, and the security guards were more plentiful and better dressed than in any other art gallery I’ve visited. In the subdued environment, however, I was able to concentrate so much more on the art itself, admire the specific ambience of a quiet room with priceless art.
But as I slowly walked through each floor, I couldn’t help but feel an eerie feeling of being out of place. At first I attributed this feeling to the deathly silence and the stern brows of the guards. But as I researched further, I suddenly realized that, as one of the few colored people in the room, I might feel out of place, whether on or next to the canvas. There were several older white couples, including a few young people. But the art was also amazingly white, which of course made sense, since it was a collection of European works of art, without the two rooms with Asian porcelain and Indian carpets on the third floor.
That situation immediately reminded me of a comment from Duke in New York, Professor Weinstein, in one of our first courses, something like this: âEven if you go to art museums like the Met, you immediately have these Greek and Roman columns. How can one speak of making museums less Eurocentric when the architecture itself is like that! âHow can I hope in the same way for a greater diversity and representation of all people in the visual arts, if our expectations for the visual arts range from portraits of these are Dutch, Italian, French or British personalities from the 13th to 19th centuries? ?
Because of this, two specific paintings spoke in the loudest voices in all of Frick Madison. They are part of an installation called “Living Histories: Queer Views and Old Masters. âFour paintings by modern New York artists are rotated through the galleries in conversation with paintingsâ old masters âin order toâ emphasize problems of gender and queer identity which are typically excluded from narratives of early modern European art â.
The two on display on the day of my visit were Doron Langbergs Lover and Salman Goal‘S Museum boys. Langberg’s painting are called “intimate but far-reaching views of relationships, sexuality, nature, family and the self” and the living tactility of. described Lover, the Hans Holbein d. J. contrasting the dark and serious portrait of Sir Thomas More, undoubtedly demonstrated Langberg’s inclination for colorful, lively and borderline eroticism.
As for Toors Museum boys, it really jumped out of nowhere and pulled me out of the high clouds of the baroque era back into reality. Two works by Vermeer, one of the most famous Dutch artists of the 17th century, hang perpendicular to each other in this room. Next Mistress and maid hangs Museum boys. It jumps off the wall and is a bright, almost grotesque green. It is almost terrifying in its audacity and unabashed surrealism; I can’t describe it well enough to do it justice. Like that Frick Madison Press release described: âWhile the objects in Vermeer’s paintings illustrate the growing influence of the Dutch Republic on international trade, the surreal menagerie in Toor’s paintings evokes queer mythology and colonial pillage …. Toors Museum boys is a sultry sideways glance into the canonical world of the Old Masters. “
So my first reaction to looking at these paintings in conversation was: props for Frick Madison. Thank you for keeping your finger on the pulse. As I left, I noted, âI highly recommend this place to anyone visiting NYC as it blends the old, powerful world so well with our current culture of accessibility, representation, and subversion of what a generation before us may believe is possible . “Granted.”
However, as I pondered my visit, I remembered that these paintings will only last until January 2022. While yes, it is fair to separate contemporary pieces from old ones for aesthetic and historical reasons by making âLiving Historiesâ a special temporary exhibition, these narratives remain excluded from longstanding âfinerâ âold mastersâ art. Even the Frick Madison is a temporary home for the Frick Collection, as the museum’s original home is still under construction five blocks away on the East 70th. Xavier F. Salomon, deputy director, hopes that at this new location Frick Madison will be able to deliver on Breuer’s promise to âtransform the liveliness of the street into the sincerity and depth of artâ.
The new location itself is probably not what connects the art with the streets of New York, nor what fulfills Solomon’s hopes; rather, it is the deliberate placement of modern, queer views opposite and alongside the paintings of the Old Masters that reveals the art and its narratives to be profound. As Professor Weinstein noted, even while Henry Frick was collecting, art history focused on the Renaissance and the Baroque. In contrast, even modern art was something no serious academic would play with. This bias is preserved in the collection we have today. “
How can we continue to free ourselves and our art consumption from these prejudices? Instead of creating an extra wall for a couple of months to place a modern painting on, I hope we can see a mix of fresh narrative in our conventional views. Even outside the sphere of the art galleries, in our workplaces and schools, let’s not take well-intentioned special rooms for minority groups for granted and accept that these voices are in reality quite ordinary – maybe you have to do it first, this is your reality. I wonder how sincere and in-depth are your galleries of queer and diverse art when they stay as temporary pop-up installments? When construction is complete and there are no more Frick Madison and Living Histories, there will be Lover and Museum boys live on?
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Jocelyn Chin is a sophomore Trinity student. Your column runs every Wednesday.