Magazine article Artforum International

Robert Frank: ROBERT MANN GALLERY

Magazine article Artforum International

Robert Frank: ROBERT MANN GALLERY

Article excerpt

Robert Frank's The Americans (1958) is arguably the twentieth century's iconic art book. Its photos, taken by Frank during a circuitous cross-country road trip in 1955 and 1956, are voyeuristic records of Americans who had sloughed off depression, won wars, and forged the world's model consumer society. The Swiss-born artist conveyed an America of bliss and ignorance, hip yet generic, its landscape and psychology both wide open. Last year was the fiftieth anniversary of Frank's book of eighty-three photographs and--incredibly--the first time the entire suite was shown in New York, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the final stop of a tour that originated at the organizing institution, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC).

Contrarians and hard-core Frank fans often argue for the early-1970s documentary Cocksucker Blues as his masterpiece. The unreleased and rarely screened verite-style film follows the Rolling Stones around the States during their Exile on Main Street tour. A wall of Frank's photographs ended up gracing the cover of that album, which is arguably among the Stones' best, steeped in the Frank-like ethic of charting, conjuring, and sometimes reveling in seamy Americana. Frank's most evocative work is indubitably charged by the psychic energy of his adopted homeland, so an exhibition at Robert Mann Gallery juxtaposing photos from The Americans with lesser-known images made both earlier and later--some shot in the US, but others taken in Paris and London--was an experiment in how an artist's less familiar work holds up in the shadow of iconicity.

The earliest photo on view was a New York City shot from 1948, taken shortly after Frank had moved to the US. It pictures a row of bench sitters from behind looking like a phalanx of pigeons in Washington Square Park--voyeurs spied by a fellow voyeur. …

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