Robert Frank American, born Switzerland, 1924–2019
About this artwork
In 1955 the Swiss-born photographer Robert Frank rented a secondhand car and, for the next two years, traveled with his 35mm Leica camera throughout the United States, capturing his impressions with the ironic distance of an outsider. Made possible by a Guggenheim Foundation grant (the first awarded to a foreigner), this photographic odyssey resulted in a landmark book, Les Américains, published in France in 1958. The brilliant technical “wrongness” of Frank’s gritty, rough, and graceless images represented a new and highly influential expressionistic approach to photographic observation. Meant to be viewed as a series, Frank’s photographs are filled with such Americana as luncheonettes and jukeboxes, tailfins and motels, and the American flag. Dominating this depiction of the nation’s annual birthday party, which Frank made before embarking on his trip around the United States, the star-spangled banner hardly waves bravely or freely. Instead it hangs down over a Fourth of July picnic, sheer and patched, like the bars of a prison. As the Beat writer Jack Kerouac noted in his introduction to the controversial 1959 American edition of Frank’s book: “With that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film.” Frank subsequently turned to filmmaking and returned to still photography upon his move to Nova Scotia in 1969.
Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.
Greenough, Sarah. 1994. “Robert Frank: Moving Out.” Essays by Philip Brookman, Martin Gasser, W. Simone Di Piero, and John Hanhardt. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art/Scalo. p. 183.
Wood, James N. and Teri J. Edelstein. 1997. “The Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide.” Publications Department of the Art Institute of Chicago. p 186.
Wood, James N. 2000. “Treasures from The Art Institute of Chicago.” Hudson Hills Press, Inc. p. 293.
Wood, James N. 2003. “The Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide - Revised Edition.” Publications Department of the Art Institute of Chicago. p 186.
Sharp, Robert V., Elizabeth Stepina and Susan E. Weidemeyer. 2009. “The Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide.” Publications Department of the Art Institute of Chicago. p. 282.
Chicago, Illinois, Art Institute of Chicago, “Books of Reportage: Photographs by Robert Frank, Danny Lyon, and Dennis Stock,” August 21, 1976—January 2, 1977.
Tokyo, Japan, National Museum of Art, “The Past and Present of Photography: When Photographs Enter the Museum,” September 26–December 16, 1990.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, “Robert Frank: Moving Out, 1944-1994,” September 27–December 31, 1994; traveled to Minatomirai, Japan, Yokohama Museum of Art, February 11–April 9, 1995; Zurich, Switzerland, Kunsthaus Zurich, June 29–August 20, 1995; Amsterdam, Netherlands, Stedelijk Museum, September 9–October 29, 1995; New York, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, November 15, 1995–February 11, 1996; and Los Angeles, California, The Lannan Foundation, March 2–May 19, 1996.
Art Institute of Chicago, “What Am I Looking At: Robert Frank Photographs,” November 2, 2002-February 2, 2003. (Elizabeth Siegel)
Art Institute of Chicago, “Hot Streaks,” February 21–May 2, 2004. (David Travis)
Art Institute of Chicago, “Far from Home: Photography, Travel, and Inspiration,” January 20–May 6, 2007. (Elizabeth Siegel and Newell G. Smith) (Gallery 1)
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