TreeHugger's name was totally ironic; founder Graham Hill had his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. But that doesn't mean we won't hug trees, or even occasionally chain ourselves to them if they are under threat. It's why I covered Charles Birnbaum's fight to save the gem of a garden designed by Russell Page at the Frick Museum earlier this year. Birnbaum is President of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, which fights to preserve those green spaces that not only beautiful but are historically important. Many people roll their eyes at the concept, seeing private green spaces as placeholders for development.
That's what the Frick says their garden always was, just filling space temporarily until they were ready to redevelop it. Except now Birnbaum has evidence that not the case at all; Someone slipped him a 1977 press release that makes it very clear that the gallery was investing in a permanent garden. They spent a lot of money on making it stand out. Birnbaum writes in the Huffington Post:
Page's creation at the Frick is an elegant, nuanced work of art that was realized over the space of ten years. As I have written before, a museum's designed landscapes should be afforded the same degree of importance and curatorial care as their buildings and other parts of their collection.
Birnbaum is no longer a voice in the wilderness on this issue; The New York Times is on it now, quoting architect Robert Stern:
“Gardens are works of art. This one is in perfect condition by Russell Page, one of the pre-eminent garden designers of the 20th century, and it should be respected as such. It’s as important as a tapestry or even a painting, and I think the museum is obliged to recognize its importance.”
Stern is just one supporter of a new group, Unite to Save the Frick, all of them ....
....concerned individuals and organizations from New York City, across the U.S. and around the world. We are architects and landscape architects, historians, design professionals, scholars, artists, authors, preservation advocates, art and museum critics, journalists, students, and members of the Frick Collection. We unite to protect the Frick’s signature ensemble of elements from short-sighted destruction and to advocate for responsible modernization.
The Frick made a classic mistake; a proper New York real estate developer would have let this garden go to seed years ago and would have rented it for loud parties. Instead, they built and maintained a work of art. Now they are custodians of it, like they are of the Frick Collection; it's part of it now.