Frick Collection at Risk

Most alarming is the proximity of the demolition work, only a few feet away, to rare and superb examples of Italian religious pictures from the 14th and 15th centuries located in the Enamel Room: a Coronation of the Virgin by Paolo and Giovanni Veneziano, Madonna and Child with Saint Lawrence and Julian by Gentile da Fabriano, and four panel paintings by Piero Della Francesca, including a painting of a monumental-looking St. John the Evangelist. Perhaps the greatest concern should be for the safety of Duccio’s Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, which was painted around 1310 for the artist’s Maestà Altarpiece and carried into the Cathedral of Siena by a religious procession over 700 years ago. All of these paintings are made of the same materials used for most altarpieces of the period: egg tempera paint and gold leaf on wood panel. The surfaces of these works, well-known and cherished by scholars and art admirers around the world, are extremely brittle at this point in their long history. Duccio’s Temptation, a small Crucifixion and an Augustinian monk and nun by Piero are riddled with cracks. Surely, the demolition going on outside is a serious threat to the already fragile condition of these works, which are among the greatest treasures of Western art.

The source of this noise and vibration is the work being done just outside on the 71st St. side of the building. The entire sidewalk, which is about eight feet wide and runs the entire perimeter of the Frick Collection galleries and library, is being torn up by two pneumatic jackhammers powered by a large generator. Workers are cutting through 2-inch thick slabs of what appears to be hard, black Basalt, then a thick layer of concrete. So far, workers have drilled down about 12 inches below the original level of the sidewalk, exposing several courses of brick from the foundation. From this it is clear that jackhammers were used to remove stone and concrete that was in direct contact with structural elements of the building itself, and with that of course, its floor and walls.

According to a worker at the site, the demolition will continue until the entire pavement has been smashed up and then replaced. After at least two days of heavy drilling, workers have yet to reach the east end of the wall adjacent to the library and in the other direction, turn the corner, which is made up of the two outer walls of the Enamel Room containing the fragile Late Gothic and Early Renaissance altarpiece panels. Furthermore, there appear to be no instruments in the gallery measuring the level of the vibrations. Surely this work should be immediately interrupted until better arrangements can be undertaken for the safety of the collection.