As activists La Tanya S. Autry and Mike Murawski succinctly put it, “Museums are not neutral.” Like all institutions—and indeed, like art itself—museums are products of their times and cultures. Museums are built on structures of power and exclusion. In selecting what artworks should be collected and displayed and whose history should be preserved, museums have played a powerful role in upholding systemic inequities. Today, we recognize that institutional objectivity is impossible. We strive instead for transparency.
In the spirit of transparency, and in a weighty year that also marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of The Frick Art Museum and 30th anniversary of Clayton’s restoration and public opening, The Frick Reflects takes a critical look at The Frick Pittsburgh’s permanent collection and institutional origin story.
This exhibition, organized by Associate Curator of Decorative Arts Dawn Reid Brean in collaboration with Assistant Curator of the Car and Carriage Museum Kim Cady and Manager of Exhibitions & Registrar Melanie Groves, examines the social context in which the Frick family lived; the perspective with which Helen Clay Frick founded our organization; and the values and viewpoints her collection reveals, sometimes unwittingly. Our collection originates from a place of privilege. But the Gilded Age was golden for only some. For most, it was a period marked by immense disparities in wealth, violent labor conflicts, nativism, xenophobia, and Jim Crow racial segregation.
Turning the spotlight on rarely seen objects from Clayton and The Frick Art Museum, this project considers the collection from new perspectives, including those of our own time. It acknowledges and confronts the inherent bias of our museum’s origins, while envisioning what kind of museum the Frick can be in the future. In this way, the exhibition invites all visitors to join us in shaping the museum’s path forward.
The Frick Reflects: Looking Back, Moving Forward
Dates:November 8, 2020 - February 7, 2021
Location:The Frick Art Museum
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Above: Craig McPherson (American, b. 1948). ET2, 2014 (detail). Mezzotint engraving, 24 ½ x 39 ¼ inches.