Constructing a Legal Framework for the Expansion Proposals of Collection Museums

by Colleen O’Leary

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Abstract

In 2018, The Frick Collection, a museum featuring the private art collection of Henry Clay Frick and housed in the Frick family’s private residence, finally received approval from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to expand its physical footprint to accommodate its growing number of visitors. Official sanctioning of the plan came after years of consternation, however, demonstrating the competing legal principles and conflicting interests that emerge when collection museums seek to expand their physical structures.

Collection museums, like the Frick, are institutions created from individuals’ private art collections that were themselves amassed to found and open the museum. Because collection museums possess a defining characteristic—a physical arrangement that integrates artwork, interior design, physical building, and landscape—proposals to alter or expand collection museums threaten to upset their unique aesthetic and experiential natures.

To effectively balance the public’s right to express its interests with the collection museum’s autonomy to determine its institutional needs, this Note assesses legal frameworks for understanding the complex intersection of interests that are raised by collection museums’ proposals to expand. Critical analysis of the trust framework, even when supplemented by nonlegal constraints, reveals its shortcomings. Ultimately, a property-based framework emerges as the preferable framework, capable of enfranchising the public while also maintaining a collection museum’s authority to make necessary alterations.

Constructing a Legal Framework for the Expansion Proposals of Collection Museums

by Colleen O’Leary

Click here for a PDF file of this article

Abstract

In 2018, The Frick Collection, a museum featuring the private art collection of Henry Clay Frick and housed in the Frick family’s private residence, finally received approval from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to expand its physical footprint to accommodate its growing number of visitors. Official sanctioning of the plan came after years of consternation, however, demonstrating the competing legal principles and conflicting interests that emerge when collection museums seek to expand their physical structures.

Collection museums, like the Frick, are institutions created from individuals’ private art collections that were themselves amassed to found and open the museum. Because collection museums possess a defining characteristic—a physical arrangement that integrates artwork, interior design, physical building, and landscape—proposals to alter or expand collection museums threaten to upset their unique aesthetic and experiential natures.

To effectively balance the public’s right to express its interests with the collection museum’s autonomy to determine its institutional needs, this Note assesses legal frameworks for understanding the complex intersection of interests that are raised by collection museums’ proposals to expand. Critical analysis of the trust framework, even when supplemented by nonlegal constraints, reveals its shortcomings. Ultimately, a property-based framework emerges as the preferable framework, capable of enfranchising the public while also maintaining a collection museum’s authority to make necessary alterations.