Interview with Dr. Ian Bruce Wardropper, Director of The Frick Collection was conducted by Nicola Linza and Cristoffer Neljesjö in New York during July 2012
Since coming to the Frick Collection eight months ago, I have been impressed time and again by how beloved the institution is. What appeals to so many people is what first drew me to it as a graduate student: masterpieces of art displayed as a personal collection in the relatively intimate spaces of a private house. This is an experience that is increasingly rare in the United States and in some ways unique. As a new director, I see my role as finding ways to deepen the direct connection between audience and art that the Frick affords and refreshing the programs that engage our public.
You curated a soon coming exhibition of the great Gian Lorenzo Bernini at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York titled Bernini, Sculpting in Clay. It is clearly a landmark undertaking and will surely be an astonishing exhibition on the 2012 museum calendar. What was the inspiration behind bringing together objects from so varied and renowned collections?
Bernini: Sculpting in Clay opens at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on October 3, 2012. The last project I undertook before leaving to come to the Frick, this exhibition marks the first occasion that nearly all of the great Baroque sculptor’s preliminary sketch and finished models with their related drawings have been assembled. Famous for his enormous marble sculptures scattered throughout Rome, Bernini began his thought processes for the finished works with small clay studies and rapid pen or chalk drawings. The works in this exhibition let the viewer peer over the sculptor’s shoulders as he fleshes out his first ideas for artistic commissions. Because so many sculptors worked in the artist’s huge workshops, these models need to be more fully assessed to determine which are from his own hand and which from his assistants. For several years I traveled with another curator and a conservator to examine the sixty or so models attributed to Bernini and select the works for this show. We hope the result will intrigue the public as well as be a contribution to scholarship.
The objects at The Frick Collection paintings, furniture and decorative arts are renowned for both selection and quality, how do you see the future of The Frick Collection as an institution evolving in terms of cultural presentations to the public?
The Frick has earned a reputation for mounting relatively small but well-focused exhibitions. Large institutions have the natural tendency to go big, to host ambitious and extensive shows, whereas smaller shows can often be more satisfying and make their points concisely. I hope to encourage the curators here to widen our range somewhat, to include decorative arts, for example, and continue to produce beautiful and intellectually challenging work.
Recently, The Frick Collection has been involved with a number of successful video and live-streaming initiatives? Do you plan to expand upon such programming options as it allows those unable to attend an opportunity to virtually attend?
The internet offers an institution with a relatively intimate space and with few labels (by design to preserve the atmosphere of a private house) the opportunity to reach a wider audience and provide deeper content. When I saw that we were turning people away from a popular lecture series about Renoir, I asked to videotape and stream-live those lectures. We are expanding the program next year as well as archiving them on our website. Another example of use of new media is an App developed for our current exhibition “Gold, Jasper, and Carnelian: Johann Christian Neuber at the Saxon Court”, which among other features identifies all the stones and their mine sources embedded in an extraordinary table in the show. The app can be consulted on our website or downloaded free. Beginning with the relaunch of our website this fall we will be creating more varied and innovative programs to connect to our collections.
I have to answer your question of which artist I would have to paint my portrait by saying that I would like a sculptor to make a bust. Alessandro Algardi, Bernini’s great rival in the seventeenth century, carved and modeled busts that were specific in detail but discreet in their overall balance. He had Baroque flair but classicizing restraint. I would trust him to find my essence. I imagine it on a pedestal in a long corridor lined with busts. If you insist on a painter, then Velasquez would do fine.