There was a time when I felt warmly toward the Frick Collection. I was a teenager when I first visited the mansion-turned-art-museum on New York’s Upper East Side. Around every corner was a painting that I had seen before in school or books—Hans Holbein the Younger’s 16th-century portraits of Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell, El Greco’s St. Jerome, the Vermeers. I did not know much about the paintings, or what they had to do with each other, except that they were all so important. And there they were, all together in this benefactor’s home, arranged (except for the gift shop and ticket desk) as if he still lived there. What a guy.

Last time I visited, I experienced the place quite differently. I had spent some of the intervening years reporting on social movements for a living, witnessing the violence and other forms of repression frequently wielded against those who take stands for their own dignity—as workers, as students, as migrants, as neighbors. I had learned that the history of my subject included Henry Clay Frick. During much his life, the public imagination associated his name not with famous art but with the breaking of the Homestead Steel Strike in Pennsylvania in 1892, a deadly operation that involved the use of Pinkerton mercenaries and the state militia. Mr. Frick spent most of his life organizing the production and sale of steel and other industrial products. Fine art was, in comparison, a hobby. Yet now, nearly a century after his death, certain masterworks can be viewed only by paying a visit to his home, frozen in time, where they are indefinitely imprisoned.

Frick-like behavior is such a familiar feature of cultural and economic practice in the United States that we rarely pause to question it. Mr. Frick was not alone.

Philanthropy could be a means for diverse, creative, collaborative acts of democracy—just what we need to regain the capacity to trust ourselves again, to remember the essential dignity that is our birthright.

Read the source article at America Magazine