The Frick Collection is one of the most prestigious small museums in the world. To visit it is like going back to what New York was at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when billionaires used to build fabulous mansions and create remarkable art collections.
In April 2014 I went to visit Xavier F. Salomon, the newly appointed Chief Curator of the Collection, in his elegant office on the second floor of the Museum, with several windows facing Central Park. He is a very thin and elegant 36 year old gentleman and he is still amazed to have been appointed to such an important job at his young age.
What are your credentials?
I am an art historian and I got my BA, my MA and my PhD at the Courtauld Institute in London. I was born in Rome; my mother is English, my father is Danish, and I have a British passport. I was raised in Rome until I was eighteen, but in Italy, even if it sounds absurd, there is no Art History Institute like there is in London or New York.
What is your field of competence?
One is Italian Baroque (sixteenth, seventeenth century) and then Veronese is the artist that I worked on the most.
It happened. I curated a Veronese exhibition at The Frick Collection in 2006 and I got more and more interested in the artist because there were very few people working on him.
You just curated a major Veronese exhibition at The National Gallery in London (from March 19th to June 15th)?
Yes, it is the first monographic exhibition of Veronese in England. There are 50 pictures, all top quality, and it is the best representation that has ever been done of the artist from the beginning to the end of his career.
But the main issue about your professional life is that after three years as Curator at the Metropolitan Museum you are now the new Chief Curator of the Frick Collection. How do you feel about it?
I think it is very exciting. The Frick is a collection where all the works of art are of extraordinary quality and it is an honour to work with such great masterpieces. And for someone of my age it is a great challenge to have a job like this.
What kind of Museum is the Frick Collection?
It is the private collection of an individual, Henry Clay Frick. It is a House Museum, where the building and the collection have to be seen together. In many ways it feels like a European Museum and it is an exceptional institution in America.
What are the Masterpieces, the Icons of the Museum?
A Giovanni Bellini, St. Francis in the Desert. It is probably the best Italian painting outside of Italy. We have three Vermeers, three Rembrandts, a great Velasquez, a great Bronzino, El Greco…. We have a great collection of Renaissance Italian Bronzes and French 18th Century Decorative Arts.
Do you have a program for some important future exhibitions?
Yes, we have Parmigianino’s La Schiava Turca coming in May. The loan was made possible by the Superintendent of Parma and by the FIAC Foundation. Then we have an exhibition of El Greco during the Summer, and in the Autumn we have Masterpieces of The Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, from Botticelli to Sargent.
How many visitors do you have per year?
How would you describe your job?
I manage the Collection, I look after the exhibitions, and I also manage the conservation and the education programming of the Museum.
Do you make new acquisitions?
Not very often, but we do. The challenge is that if we buy an object, it has to be of the same quality as the rest of the collection.
Do you have any new acquisitions in mind?
There is a decorative art object from the sixteenth century and a sculpture from the seventeenth century.
Do you loan some of your works?
Everything that was bought by Mr Frick before he died in 1919 we cannot loan. But we have a third of the collection that was bought after his death and which can travel.
What are you going to change?
Right now nothing, in the sense that The Frick is a very well-run Museum and the challenge is to keep it going as it is rather than make changes. But we are always looking for new ideas and new exhibitions.
Do you have a dream exhibition in mind for the future?
I would like to see more great Italian works of art. One idea would be a great Caravaggio here for a while!
Young people are interested in Old Masters?
In America, yes, we have more young people coming to our Museums. People come to The Frick to see an outstanding collection.
Do you have good relationships with other Institutions?
Yes, with the Metropolitan and other American and European Museums. In particular with the Mauritshuis museum of art in The Hague and with the Norton Simon collection in Pasadena, California. We exchange many loans.
Are you curating any other shows outside The Frick?
I have just curated a Goya exhibition that will open at the Metropolitan at the end of April. It is a small exhibition of five works that come from Spanish and American collections.
Would you like to go back to Italy one day?
In principle, yes, I would like to live in Italy. But today the work situation seems to me dramatic because there are no resources for museums and curators and Culture is not considered as it should be in a country like Italy.
April 3, 2014