For Whom the Bell Tolls, It Tolls for Thee… SMMoA

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For the last quarter century, Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, with its dozens of art galleries and art-related businesses, has been a major cultural attraction for art aficionados from all over Los Angeles. Where else could one easily park their car and spend a couple of hours walking from gallery to gallery, seeing exhibitions ranging from up-and-coming artists to well known and celebrated masters. And then, to have lunch at Bergamot Station Café…

And for all these years, Santa Monica Museum of Art was a crown jewel of this cultural island. But, unfortunately, no longer. Last year it closed its doors and began the search for a new home, probably somewhere in Downtown LA. This departure is a big loss for the City of Santa Monica and its prestige, and to a certain extent, this closure has somewhat lowered the cultural stature of Bergamot Station as well.

Robert Frank, “Books and Films,” 1947-2016
Images © Elizabeth Cara

All that and more rushed back into my mind as I visited a very unconventional exhibition occupying the old space of SMMoA. It is a tribute to one of the most celebrated American photographers, the 91-year-old Robert Frank. The exhibition, Robert Frank: Books and Films 1947-2016, is being shown for only two weeks, and closes next Friday, the 15th. There are hundreds of black and white images on display, and the display is anything but traditional. All of the photos were reproduced inexpensively on large sheets of newsprint and pinned directly on the wall. Copies of books and various publications are suspended from the ceiling by thin wires in a playful, informal way.

Robert Frank, “Books and Films,” 1947-2016
Images © Elizabeth Cara

This traveling exhibition is scheduled to visit 40 cities around the globe in the next couple of years. But the most interesting and eyebrow-raising component of this exhibition is the fact that it is completely and utterly destroyed every time it is presented. And it’s done on purpose. Here in Los Angeles, UCLA students have been invited to go to the exhibition on closing day and tear it apart in whatever creative way they see fit. So, instead of paying for the transportation and insurance for original artworks, this exhibition can be recreated again and again for a minimal amount of money. And when this exhibition pops up, people around the world will be given the opportunity to learn about one of the greatest artists of our time.

Robert Frank, “Books and Films,” 1947-2016
Images © Elizabeth Cara

I have to admit that, in attending this exhibition I, once again, became aware that my favorite images are those from Robert Frank’s celebrated book published in 1958, The Americans. No artist, before or after, has been able to create such precise and iconic images showing to us and to the whole world who we, Americans, really are, no flattery intended. For me, the iconic images from The Americans will always cast a shadow over the rest of Robert Frank's illustrious career.

Robert Frank, “Americans 1, Parade – Hoboken, New Jersey,” 1955
Gelatin silver print
Photograph courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

Born in Switzerland in 1924, and emigrating to the United States in 1947, Frank had the advantage of being an outsider, an outsider with an extremely sharp eye and exquisite technical skill. Years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing him here at KCRW, and I paid him what I thought was a well-deserved compliment comparing him with another outsider, the Greek artist who moved to Spain in the 16th century and gained recognition under the name, El Greco, the most celebrated artist of his adopted country.

Somehow, Robert Frank was not pleased with that historical reference, telling me, "I am sick and tired of all these ancient stories, let’s talk about what I’m doing right now.” And indeed, in the last decades, he continued to be very busy, with hundreds of new photos, films, and books. When he was approached with the idea for this unusual exhibition, his response was, “Cheap, quick, and dirty, that's how I like it!"

To learn about Edward's Fine Art of Art Collecting Classes, please visit his website and check out this article in Artillery Magazine.



Jennifer Wolfe