Outside the Frick Collection on Manhattan's Upper East Side Wednesday afternoon, a museum security guard offered those waiting in the 45-minute line the option to skip to the front by purchasing a $75 annual membership — not unlike a nightclub bouncer encouraging people to buy table service and expedite entry.
New York's hottest club is, improbably, the Frick.
Over the past few weeks, the very small, usually pin-drop quiet museum famous for its collection of old master paintings has drawn around-the-block crowds — many coming see Carel Fabritius' The Goldfinch, the painting that inspired Donna's Tartt's best-selling, must-read novel of the moment of the same name. The Fabritius painting, which is part of an exhibit featuring 15 paintings on loan from The Hague's Mauritshuis museum, is only in New York until Sunday, which has meant unprecedented crowds and long lines over the past week.
In almost cosmically strange timing — befitting the book's themes in many ways — the exhibit opened at the Frick the exact same day Tartt's novel was released in the U.S. The museum said they have had over 200,000 visitors since the Oct. 22, opening, making it the museum's most-visited show ever. (On average, about 250,000 people visit the Frick over the course of an entire year.)
In line, one woman was reading The Goldfinch while she waited. Another, Annie Gonzalez, had recently finished it, and promptly ordered Tartt's first book, The Secret History which she pulled out of her bag. "I read about it in The New York Times, that the painting was here, and I thought it was fortuitous," she said.
Others had read the book, but insisted it wasn't the main reason for the visit. "Everyone thinks you're coming now to the Frick to see The Goldfinch," said Jennifer Clark, who came back Wednesday after being deterred by the 90-minute line on Saturday.
And one young couple, when asked if the book had brought them to the museum, responded, "No. We're super cultured."
Inside the exhibit, the crowd around The Goldfinch was five-deep. "That's the one everyone's trying to get at!" one man announced. People were mostly quiet around the painting, though some seemed surprised by how small the painting was.
It was slightly easier to get a close look at Vermeer's Girl With A Pearl Earring, another painting popularized by a novel, partially because it had one of the exhibit's entire rooms to itself, while the 14 other paintings shared the other. Girl With A Pearl Earring had been the show's initial main draw, before Tartt's novel was released to overwhelmingly glowing praise. Tartt attended the show's opening, and has been back more than once to sign copies of her novel, which is sold in the gift shop.
"It has brought visitors to the Frick who would not have come had they not read the novels," said Margaret Iacono, the show's curator. "The only frustration is when they take the author's fictionalized accounts as fact."
"Well," one woman said, as she walked past The Goldfinch. "That's a very cute bird."