Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Robert Frank, From the Penwick Foundation Collection @Danziger

JTF (just the facts): A total of 42 black and white photographs, framed in dark brown and matted, and hung against white walls in the two room gallery space. All of the works are gelatin silver prints (some vintage, some later), taken between 1949 and 1962. No physical dimensions or edition sizes were available on the checklist, but many of the prints looked to be roughly 9x13 (or reverse). All of the prints come from the Penwick Foundation Collection, which acquired them in 1978. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: This show brings together prints from three of Robert Frank's classic geographies (Paris, London/Wales, and America), mixing the known with the unknown in equal measure. Drawn from a single collection amassed in the late 1970s, the prints provide a concise, lively summary of Frank's photographic approach.
The handful of Paris pictures capture some of the city's romance (a box of tulips, a baguette-holding child, a couple taking a posed photo with the camera perched on a metal chair) without becoming overly saccharine. A burly weight lifter balancing a pole on his chin and a tiger at the zoo provide some unexpected grittiness. The London and Wales images are a parade of chauffeurs and fancy cars, flanked by serious men in long black coats and top hats. A perplexing flying dog, somehow hurled through a back alley courtyard, upends the upper class sense of decorum.
The back room contains images from Frank's travels through America, some of which found their way into The Americans, while others are more surprising and obscure. A sea of audience faces peer forward (with one hiding behind a program), a man holds an armful of quirky plastic dolls on a sidewalk, Park Avenue awnings cover a building with geometric precision, and the fins of a Cadillac poke out from the back of a Chicago parking garage. Better known images like the juxtaposition of Jesus and a beer drinking woman, the endless line of mailboxes, and the cigar smoking rodeo cowboy provide familiar anchor points for Frank's overall mood.

As a single owner collection, this group of Frank prints is certainly an impressive gathering; as a show, I'm not sure it really teaches us anything we didn't already know about the artist. That said, there's never anything wrong with seeing a well-edited selection of Frank's superlative photographs, and the few lesser known gems found here offer some unusual revelations.

Collector's POV: The prints in this show are priced between $25000 and $195000, with the majority under $40000. Frank's work is routinely available in the secondary markets, where recent prices have ranged between $5000 and $600000.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Features/Reviews: New Yorker (here), Le Journal de la Photographie (here)
Robert Frank, From the Penwick Foundation Collection
Through October 27th

Danziger Gallery
527 West 23rd Street
New York, NY 10011


Ben Pentreath said...

Great show.

Anonymous said...


Pete McGovern said...

Vintage prints might be interesting for collectors but in the past I got the feeling Frank never printed for posterity from the ones I've seen.

The difference between a recent Frank print and a fifty year old original is much like the difference in hearing a Bach piece of music being played on a piano compared to a harpsichord. One offers the subtlety we expect and the other is strictly for the purists.