Tag Archives: Robert Frank

Summer 2010 Wrap Up – Recent Photo News@the DIA

 As summer comes to a close, and we push through our annual August slow down, it’s no doubt our visitors are wondering what’s been going on at the DIA. Through African Eyes closed earlier in the month. The exhibition was carefully packed up and is now en route to the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. A few select photographs from the DIA’s collection by West African photographer Sedyou Keita and South African artist Zwelethu Mthethwa will travel with other exquisite and very unique African treasures from museums around the world.

DIA special exhibition galleries in transition, August 2010

In the meantime, our special exhibitions galleries are presently in overhaul mode as we prepare for the November 21, 2010, opening of Fakes, Forgeries and Mysteries which will feature about 50 re-evaluated permanent collection works of all media and from many cultures.  The exhibition explores the methods used by museums to examine and authenticate works of art. One photograph will be on view – a dubious Man Ray rayogram (also known as a photogram) that experts believe is a copy, but you’ll have to come to the exhibition to learn more about this.

André Kertész circa 1980, by Bill Rauhauser, © Bill Rauhauser 2010

With the Robert Frank photo exhibition closing in July, and our main photo gallery down for most of the year, behind the scenes preparations are ongoing for an upcoming season of new programs and more exhibitions in development. The Albert and Peggy de Salle Gallery is now under wraps for a fresh paint job and cleaning but will open again to the public on November 24, 2010, with An Intuitive Eye: André Kertész Photographs 1914-1969. Largely a permanent collection exhibition, we were fortunate to find the artist’s lesser known, but critical early Hungarian photographs which will be on loan from University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor. From the DIA’s collection, we’ve included Kertész’s iconic work from Paris in the 1920s and 1930s in addition to late work he made throughout New York City after 1940. The exhibition is the first comprehensive survey of the artist’s work at the DIA and coincides with the 25th anniversary of his death in 1985. 

Philip Gefter scheduled to lecture at the DIA Friday, Nov. 19, 2010

Our stellar department support group – The Forum for Prints, Drawings and Photographs – will host a series of artist’s lectures this fall as well as an encore presentation by Philip Gefter on the work of  André Kertész. Gefter traveled to Detroit and the DIA this past June for a talk on Robert Frank, and we so enjoyed it, we asked him back again! Join us for his  lecture and a special preview of An Intuitive Eye at 7pm on Friday, November 19, 2010. The exhibition will open officially to the public on Sunday, November 24, 2010, and is free with museum admission.

Hall of Thirty-Three Bays, 1995, by Hiroshi Sugimoto, © Hiroshi Sugimoto

 On the publications front, DIA editor Judith Ruskin and I have finalized texts for an upcoming issue of the DIA’s Bulletin – the first dedicated solely to the medium of photography (the DIA’s Bulletin has been in publication since 1919). Ongoing research and interest in our growing collection by several colleagues across the nation led to the development of this journal. The issue will feature essays on permanent collection works including Victorian era photography as seen in the cyanotypes of Anna Atkins and examine the pre World War II era of pictorialism in the work of Paul Anderson. Also highlighted are contemporary photographs including work by Lewis Baltz, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Greg Crewdson and the young women of the so-called Yale School who rose to fame in the late 1990s. MFA, Boston, colleague Karen Haas was even kind enough to take time away from her research as curator of The Lane Collection to pen a very interesting article on a series of 1955 photographs made by Robert Frank for an essay on train travel for Fortune magazine. The Bulletin is due out sometime in September 2010 and will be available in our museum shop.  

One highlight from the summer was an email from writer and film producer Mary Dejarlais asking if I would take part in the upcoming documentary film based on the life and photographic work of Detroit native Bill Rauhauser, who recently celebrated his 92nd birthday. As a former photo student of Bill’s at the College for Creative Studies, Detroit, back in the 1980s, it was an absolute pleasure to share what I remembered about him as a mentor and creative spirit. And so few people know about his efforts to establish the DIA’s photography collection early in the 1960s. Bill still supports the DIA and attends events and exhibitions. News about the film’s première and accompanying biography will get posted here as soon as I get word from the producers, but we may see it screen locally in September 2010. Desjarlais is also the author of a biography about Bill to be published this fall.  

Last few days to see rare photos of Detroit by Robert Frank

Drug store – Detroit, 1955, copyright Robert Frank from The Americans

Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs, 1955 will be on view through Saturday, July 3, 2010. It may be your last chance to see these rare pictures by the legendary artist. The next photo show at the DIA will open on November 24, 2010 when we present An Intuitive Eye: André Kertész Photographs 1914-1969. The exhibition surveys Kertész’s career with nearly 100 photographs taken in Hungary, Paris and New York. 

DIA shines a light on Robert Frank’s “Exile on Main Street” right here in Detroit

DIA installation view - Detroit Movie House, 1955, © Robert Frank

My best guess is that Robert Frank took the photograph at right while wandering around somewhere in downtown Detroit along Michigan Avenue. The DIA was lucky enough to get the original, large-scale photographic masterpiece (about 2 x 3 feet) on loan from the artist for the current exhibition Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs, 1955. It is likely he took the photograph, Detroit Movie House, in front of The Loop Theater when he passed through town in July, 1955. Better to see this in person, as this installation view doesn’t do it justice.

The PR overload surrounding the recent re-release of The Rolling Stones’ 1972 Exile on Main Street reminded me as well that Robert was responsible for photographs appearing on original album. On a recent tour of the exhibition, my friend and favorite Detroit rocker Danny Kroha mentioned that Detroit Movie House had actually appeared on the inside cover.

Detail from the inside album cover for Exile on Main Street, 1972, © Rolling Stones Records; Collection of W.M. Watson.

I caught Keith Richards in a rare appearance on late night tv plugging the new Exile super deluxe box edition. But I recently dug up the original from my brother’s vinyl collection, and revisiting it was like discovering a strange old relic. In an age of obsessive multi-tasking, the act of solely listening to records and looking at album covers and liner notes is a distant, lost art for most of us. It’s a shame too because through Exile on Main Street, I saw the photographs of Robert Frank for the first time. And it wouldn’t be until years later that I would find out about his films, including Frank’s documentary about The Stones, as well as his book The Americans.

1961 cover for the New Lost City Ramblers with photo by Robert Frank; courtesy http://www.folkways.si.edu

More music trivia on the Robert Frank front came courtesy of Mr. Kroha, who remembered that Frank took the cover photograph for The New Lost City Ramblers album back in 1961. The band continued to use his photographs for a number of other albums and later compilations. I wasn’t surprised since by the 1950s, Robert had established close ties to musicians as well as writers, painters and other photographers who lived in New York City and elsewhere. In fact, Ramblers’ band member John Cohen shot stills for a number of Frank’s films over the years – there’s one on view in the exhibition from the set of Pull My Daisy, a film Robert made with writer Jack Kerouac in 1959.

Readies guitarist Danny Kroha setting the record straight about Ford's versus Oldsmobiles

Readies guitarist Danny Kroha setting the record straight about Fords versus Oldsmobiles; photo courtesy of Elizabeth Kroha

Robert Frank loaned a few other  photographs to the exhibition including a picture of a broken down car, presumably his 1950 Ford Coupe which failed in downtown Detroit. But the photo actually shows a 1947 Oldsmobile – the grill was a dead give away and confirmation came from a quick web search on iPhone in the gallery. I later double checked with Robert and heard back that the automobile was, indeed, not the artist’s, who mentioned, “my car wasn’t that nice.”

Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs, 1955, is open and free with museum admission through Saturday, July 3, 2010.

Save the dates for spring photography programs at the DIA and around town

Drive-in movie—Detroit, 1955, © Robert Frank, from The Americans

SAVE THE DATES! – The DIA will present upcoming programs in conjunction with Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs, 1955.

Friday, June 4, 2010, 7:30 p.m. in DIA’s Lecture Hall, author Philip Gefter will present a lecture – Robert Frank and the Beat Generation.

Philip Gefter believes that Robert Frank split the century in half in terms of his legendary and groundbreaking photographic work of the 1950s. His influence was felt by all who followed him. Join him as he discusses the work of Frank and his relationship to Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac among others. Gefter will also be on hand after the lecture to sign copies of Photography After Frank, a book of essays recently published by Aperture.

Gefter was on staff at The New York Times for over fifteen years, both as the Page One Picture Editor and Senior Picture Editor for Culture, and wrote regularly about photography for the paper. He produced the forthcoming documentary, Bill Cunningham New York about the New York Times fashion photographer. Currently he writes about photography for The Daily Beast, and he is at work on a biography of Sam Wagstaff for W.W. Norton.

This program is free with museum admission and sponsored by the Forum for Prints, Drawings and Photographs. For more info about the auxiliary, follow us on facebook at  www.facebook.com/DIAFPDP or check in on our activities at the DIA’s new website.

Saturday, June 12, 2010, 4:00 p.m., DIA’s Detroit Film Theater will present An American Journey by French director Phillipe Séclier. I highly recommend this film having seen it last fall at the Film Forum in New York – a documentary with often breathtaking cinematography, it is illuminating, humorous and takes a different look at Robert Frank and the making of his book The Americans. Made in 2009, An American Journey travels back to the cities, towns and rural communities that Frank immortalized in The Americans. He even traveled to Detroit’s most famous public park Belle Isle to find the place where Frank took photographs.

Speaking with many individuals who knew and know Frank, the director included commentary by artist Edward Ruscha, publisher Barney Rosset, photographers John Cohen and Raymond Depardon, and curators/critics Vicki Goldberg, Sarah Greenough and Peter Galassi who discuss the inspiration and complex artistic methodology that fueled the Swiss-born Robert Frank in his American journey. The film is free with museum admission. For more information about this film and the DFT film schedule – it’s all at www.dia.org/detroitfilmtheatre.

Of note as well is photographer Andrew Moore’s lecture this Friday, April 30 at 7 p.m at Oakland Community College. Moore just released a new book of his work entitled Detroit Disassembled and will appear at the OCC for a lecture and book signing sponsored by Book Beat.

Robert Frank finds “Gods Factory” at the Rouge and uncovers American Life in Detroit – photo exhibition opens at the DIA today

Belle Isle - Detroit, 1955, Museum Purchase, Ernest and Rosemarie Kanzler Foundation Fund, Forum for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Purchase Fund, and General Art Purchase Fund © Robert Frank, from The Americans

Robert Frank (born 1924) was the first photographer to make the city of Detroit along with Ford workers and the assembly line a serious subject for the camera and the basis for his groundbreaking work in America in 1955. The photographs are representative of how he, a young European man, found Americans living and working at mid-century. Fascinated by our culture, but also critical of what he saw and experienced, Frank looked under the surface of American life and pushed the aesthetic boundaries of the medium unlike anyone before him.

The automobile, in particular, was something he saw everywhere in the U.S., and one of his foremost priorities when considering subjects for his book The Americans was to come to Detroit to “do the story on the factory” as he told me in a 2001 interview. Select images from his travels to the Motor City and elsewhere were preserved in this legendary book and numerous other Detroit photographs appeared in his other publications as well including The Lines of My Hand (1972) and Flowers Is (1985). These images and other unknown, rare photographs are the subject of Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs 1955 opening today at the DIA.

Entrance to the Ford Motor Company Rouge Factory tour in Dearborn, Michigan

Last fall, I spent the better part of an afternoon over in Dearborn, Michigan, at the site once referred to by photographer Robert Frank as “God’s factory.” It’s known to us locals as the Rouge (the Ford Motor Company River Rouge plant). Back in the 1950s when Frank traveled there, Ford was at the height of production, and the Rouge was a major tourist destination for people from all over the world.

Entrance to Dearborn Assembly Plant on the Ford Rouge Factory Tour, Dearborn, Michigan

On the official Rouge tour today you can spend about two hours soaking up car culture while viewing vintage automobiles and historical film footage of the old factory and its assembly lines. The entire complex can be seen from an observation deck as well as workers and assembly line production from an overhead catwalk in the adjacent Dearborn Assembly Plant. The assembly line was up and running when I was there, and the guide mentioned that two shifts a day were producing about 1,100 Ford F150 trucks daily. It was an encouraging sight.

Assembly Plant, Ford, Detroit, 1955, Founders Society Purchase, Coville Photographic Fund © Robert Frank

But the Rouge today is a far cry from what Robert Frank saw when he was here in ’55. Now, modernized manufacturing and environmental incentives have brought state-of-the art technology to the complex and the worker’s daily routines along with honey bees, acres of sunflowers, indigenous plant life, and 454,000 square feet of sedum implanted on the factory’s thriving green roof. So, about the closest we can get in the present to the factory’s glorious and gritty past is what Frank has found there and photographed over 50 years ago.

A few years ago and through the good graces of Ford employee Don Russell (who managed the installation of the largest green roof in the world at the Rouge in 2003), I spent some time touring the buildings where Frank photographed. Visitors can no longer see them on the current public tour (original tours of the plant began right after it opened in 1927 and continued through the early 1980s with access into the original complex). Frank photographed in the B Building where motor assembly took place and in final assembly areas of the plant where the Ford Fairlane and its V-8 engine were made, but these old production sites and their Albert Kahn-designed buildings were demolished in recent years.

Assembly line - Detroit, 1955, Founders Society Purchase, Coville Photographic Fund © Robert Frank from The Americans

This exhibition has been in development for many years, and my research goes back to the early 1990s when I first discovered the material at the DIA while working as an intern in the department of prints, drawings and photographs. I studied Frank’s work in-depth at his archive in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where I found about 50 proof sheets from his trip to the Motor City. Detroit was a boom town, and the Ford factory was at the height of production with around 60,000 employees who could build one car per minute.

A large gift of Frank’s Detroit photographs came into the collection in the 1980s, and in subsequent years additional works were purchased. These acquisitions have contributed to  DIA’s  establishment of a rare and remarkable body of work by this legendary and influential artist. Many prints are unique, and even though select photographs have been on view over the years, this is the first time all of the work can be seen in a single exhibition. Over sixty photographs will be on view in the special exhibition galleries near Rivera court (the de Salle Gallery of Photography will be temporarily closed  but reopen with an exhibition of Andre Kertesz’s work in the late fall).

Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs, 1955, will be on view through July 3, 2010. Check back here or at the DIA’s website for announcements regarding upcoming special programs related to the exhibition.

Robert Frank installation nearly finished – Detroit Experiences opens tomorrow March 3.

 

Museum staff at the DIA is finishing installation this afternoon and Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs, 1955 will open tomorrow. Here’s a few photographs from behind the scenes.

DIA Lighting technician Grant West getting a perfect five foot candles of light on each photograph

Collections Care Specialist Doug Bulka at the reading table.

 

A peak midway through the gallery

Robert Frank and his Detroit experiences on view in DIA photo exhibition opening March 3

Detroit River Rouge Plant, 1955, © Robert Frank

Detroit Experiences: Robert Frank Photographs, 1955 opens at the DIA this Wednesday, March 3. I thought readers might want a quick look at a few of the photographs in the exhibition (there are over 60 works – all from the DIA’s permanent collecction) which will be on view in the special exhibition galleries just off Rivera court where the Detroit Industry murals by Mexican artist Diego Rivera have been on view since 1932.

View of the DIA's Rivera court and Diego Rivera's Industry murals from 1932

View of the DIA's Rivera court and Diego Rivera's Industry murals from 1932

Both men found inspiration for their work at the Ford Motor Company River Rouge plant (known as “the Rouge” to locals) in Dearborn, Michigan.

Frank spent several days photographing at the Rouge in 1955. About a third of the exhibition includes Frank’s rare imagery from inside the huge complex. He also visited Belle Isle, the Gratiot Drive-In (found in Roseville, Michigan, and now demolished), as well as other familiar haunts around the city. Frank came to Detroit to photograph “how Americans live and work” – several of the Detroit images were reproduced in his book The Americans and appeared in later publications he created. The photographs were part of a larger group of nearly 27,000 images he took traveling across the U.S on a Guggenheim fellowship.