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“We returned the gilt handle to the V&A—but I kept the feathers”

By Aimee Ng - 19. July 2022
From Manila to Moroni, Aimee Ng, curator at New York's Frick Collection reveals a thing or two about her cultural life.
In each installment of Art World Aperitivo, we chat with a lover of the arts over an imaginary cocktail. Our first date is with Aimee Ng, a curator at New York’s Frick Collection, whose celebrated Cocktails with a Curator videos provided the spark for this series.

What are you drinking?

A vodka martini, a little dirty, with three olives, up.

Something about your hometown.

“Hometown” is tricky for me since my family left my city of birth (Manila) when I was a baby and moved to Canada, where they moved around. I spent the longest period growing up in Oakville, an idyllic suburb of Toronto best known for its world-class golf course (I do not golf). I feel most at home in New York City.

A great book with a great cover.

When the Frick mounted an exhibition in 2017 on portrait medals (The Pursuit of Immortality: Masterpieces from the Scher Collection of Portrait Medals), I wrote a small book about this relatively obscure art form, which included innovative photography. We wanted to bring the tactility of medals to life in the book, so, for the cover, we reproduced a medal by Pisanello in relief: the obverse on the front cover; the reverse on the back. Readers can run their fingers over the relief while they read. A book for many senses!

How do you stay productive?

By coming to terms with the shortness of life. I’m currently reading Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. I’ve also begun to rethink what “productivity” means. For me, teaching my children how to read and write and having the endless conversations that hopefully help shape them into good human beings is as productive as (and not unrelated to) mounting enlightening exhibitions for the public.

An artwork featuring a garment you’d like to wear or object you’d like to own.

In Moroni’s painting of Isotta Brembati (Palazzo Moroni, Bergamo)—which we included in the Frick’s 2019 exhibition Moroni: The Riches of Renaissance Portraiture—the sitter holds a spectacular pink-and-white feather fan with a gold handle. It’s out of this world. For the exhibition, we borrowed from the V&A Museum a rare sixteenth-century gilt-bronze fan handle, into which we inserted modern feathers, constructed after Moroni’s painting by the Frick’s conservator, Julia Day. It was a huge hit with our visitors. We returned the gilt handle to the V&A—but I kept the feathers.

© Michael Bodycomb

A place (real or fictional) you’re longing to visit.

The places of my ancestors. The historic home of one family line still stands in Pampanga province in the Philippines. It’s hard to pinpoint exact locations for the others due to spotty family lore. One set of great-grandparents is rumored to have been a man of Spanish descent and a Chinese woman who met somewhere in the Philippines in the early twentieth century; another came from then-poor fishing villages in China’s Fujian province, though one great-grandmother had bound feet, a signal of some status. I’ve spent most of my life studying other people’s histories, and I’d like to take a better look at my own.

Photo courtesy Ng family

What your alter ego does for a living.

Writes murder mysteries (and records the audiobooks).

A special recipe or a dish at your favorite local restaurant.

I have two local favorites—in lower Manhattan, where I live, and on the Upper East Side, where I work. Downtown, the chef at our neighborhood Korean restaurant (Gunbae Tribeca, 67 Murray Street; Karaoke from 4 pm downstairs) makes for me a delicious off-menu Sundubu Jjigae (spicy tofu stew) with three pork dumplings simmered in it, just about to fall apart. Apparently, it’s not actually a Korean dish, but he indulges me. Uptown, my perfect lunch is at Le Charlot (19 East 69th Street): avocado and hearts-of-palm salad, then moules à la thai (ginger, lemongrass, cilantro) with frites and a cold glass (or two) of Sancerre. Since the Frick moved last year from 1 East 70th Street to the Breuer building at 945 Madison Avenue, I have not gone there as often. Five blocks make a big difference for a Manhattan lunch hour! ❖

Photo courtesy Aimee Ng

Aimee Ng is a curator at the Frick Collection in New York. She specializes in Italian Renaissance art.

Illustration: Studio Ruohan Wang—Sven Wang
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