My 90-year-old father and I flew 3000 miles to see them. The Frick and the Met, museums that is. Art gold. Let me spill a little tea.*
My father went to see the art. I went to make sure the man living in his 10th decade came back without getting hurt, robbed, or lost.
He didn’t really need me for any of that. But it was good for me to go.
First stop — the Frick. A temporary museum of the art collection from Henry Clay Frick. For the last few years, the art has been in an “unused museum” while they remodel and rebuild the Frick mansion that looks out on Central Park.
Four floors of paintings, some sculptures, and what feels like an endless parade of things meant to fill the holes in an unholy disorder of the collector’s personality.
Let’s face it, Frick was a prick.
He was the leader of a hunting club that refused to spend enough money on the dam holding back the water for their private lake. One reason the dam broke was the nets they set in the spillways to keep the fish from escaping downstream — no fish for peasants — more pressure on a dam made of dirt in a record storm.
The Johnstown Flood killed more people than Pearl Harbor (about 2200).
But that may not have been the worst thing he did… He made all his money in “coke” and steel. A brutal industry that killed workers quickly by boiling to death in the fires or dropping hot and heavy objects on their heads. Or they died slowly with black lung and other diseases. No retirement for 19th Century steel workers. He broke men, and he broke their unions, so he and his partner Andrew Carnegie could make hundreds of millions.
During a strike, Frick led a private army of Pinkerton’s against his own striking steel workers. Killing 10 and injuring more than 70. He makes any top 10 list of worst American bosses ever. For a long time, he was the most hated man in America. There was a plot to assassinate him — for good reason.
After the days of exploiting the work of others, Frick could retire to his mansion and ponder his collection. Mostly portraits of Spanish Kings, French nobleman and British aristocracy. The people who had suppressed the weak and massed their fortunes 200 to 500 years before Frick.
It’s the Robber Baron gazing at his predecessors in oppression.
The portraits did it with titles, land, and military campaigns for God and country. Frick let his money do the dirty work for his own greed and ego.
Using the phone app to listen to the stories behind the paintings is an endless parade of misery and bad endings. Lord Suckling, the poet and playwrite fills an entire wall almost floor to ceiling. After gambling, drinking and whoring, he picked the wrong side in a civil war and killed himself because he was penniless in Paris. He didn’t make it into his 40’s.
It’s room after room of bad marriages, lost fortunes and bastard children. No wonder no one is smiling in these poses.
After 4 hours of standing, reading, listening and looking, I’m left with a feeling of anger.
Why did this greedy fuck get to collect and hide this from the public for almost a hundred years? Sure, it eventually found its way to “the public” but that was after his children died. Don’t worry, they and their descendants didn’t starve — there was still millions to spread around. Funding political families all over the country.
It just seems wrong to gaze upon the art created for (and rejected by) Louis XV’s girlfriend, hang in a private mansion in New York for a man who made his fortune killing workers in Western Pennsylvania.
The pictures are cool, but I can’t stop thinking that there has got to be a better use for all this cash. Can’t we hang this shit in museums for all to see? Can’t we keep these rich pricks from holding all the great art just to themselves?
The 3 Vermeer’s in the living room could have paid to pull a lot of people out of poverty… then or now.
The anger didn’t last long. The next day we went to The Met. More art in more rooms than anyone could possibly see in a month or even a year. After 6 hours, my eyes were glazed.
“This is just a small selection of what they have,” my sister, the art history major, said. “They have stuff in buildings and warehouses all over the state.”
Wow. Maybe it’s OK if a few billionaires hold a few floors of “high art.” There’s still plenty to go around of the rest of us.
It’s like being mad at a kid holding two buckets of sand at the beach.
These billionaires can’t hold onto that shit forever. Sooner or later the descendants don’t care about grandpa’s paintings. They need a tax deduction, and so the art winds up in a collection at The Met, or the Brooklyn museum, or any college with two endowments to rub together.
After a few hours at The Met, I may not be as personally aggrieved by the small collection at The Frick, but let’s not forget Henry Clay Frick was and will always be a “Class A Prick”.
*Did you get the reference to the theme of the Beverly Hillbillies? Probably not.
Categories: Political Correctness