ROBERT FRANK (1924-2019)
ROBERT FRANK (1924-2019)
ROBERT FRANK (1924-2019)
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ROBERT FRANK (1924-2019)
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Art of Collecting: A Pacific Island Connoisseur of Art and Design
ROBERT FRANK (1924-2019)

Covered Car, Long Beach, California, 1955-1956

ROBERT FRANK (1924-2019)
Covered Car, Long Beach, California, 1955-1956
gelatin silver print, printed 1970s
signed ink ink (margin); numbered 'RFA 034.13' in pencil (verso)
image: 8 1/2 x 13 1/4 in. (21.5 x 33.6 cm.)
sheet: 11 x 13 7/8 in. (27.9 x 35.2 cm.)
Christie's, New York, October 22, 2002, lot 300;
acquired from the above by the present owner.
Robert Frank, Les Américains, Delpire, Paris, 1958, no. 34, p. 73.
Robert Frank, The Americans, Grove Press, New York, 1959, no. 34, n.p., and all subsequent editions.
Manuel Gasser and Willy Rotzler, 'Robert Frank,' Du, vol. 22, no. 1, January 1962, p. 15.
Sarah Greenough and Philip Brookman, Robert Frank: Moving Out, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994, p. 187.
Sarah Greenough and Alexander Stuart, Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2009, p. 250, expanded edition.

Brought to you by

Michael Jefferson
Michael Jefferson International Senior Specialist, Senior Vice President

Lot Essay

“Car shrouded in fancy expensive designed tarpolian [sic] … to keep soots of no-soot Malibu from falling on new simonize job as owner who is two-dollar-an-hour carpenter snoozes in house with wife and TV, all under palm trees for nothing in the cemeterial California night…”- Jack Kerouac in his introduction to The Americans

A shining beacon parked between two palms, Robert Frank’s Covered Car, Long Beach, California, 1955-1956 stages the American automobile front and center in the set of the American West. Frank included this image in his seminal book, The Americans, created as a photographic record of his travels around the United States in 1955 and 1956. Funded by a grant from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, Frank travelled the country by car to record life in mid-century America. The result was an incredibly powerful and revealing body of work that bridges class, race and gender to depict an America that is as glorious as it is tragic.

The Americans depicts a country of people on the move, in the streets and roads, working in factories, and driving cars or motorcycles. The automobile is one of the most important motifs in the series, not only because it was Frank’s method of transportation during the project, but because it was a symbol of America itself. As a result of the booming post-war automobile industry in the 1950s, the car became central to the American way of life, elevated from a method of transportation to a status symbol.

Author Jack Kerouac had completed a similar cross-country journey by car a few years prior to Robert Frank, which culminated in his seminal 1957 novel recording the beatnik generation, On the Road. A year later Kerouac contributed an introduction to The Americans, writing, “After seeing these pictures you end up finally not knowing any more whether a jukebox is sadder than a coffin.”

Kerouac highlights the power of Frank’s images to juxtapose everyday items of American consumerism with scenes of funerals and car crashes, scraping away the shiny candy coating of americana to expose the darker side of the American dream. Kerouac refers to this image specifically in the introduction, describing the car as “shrouded in fancy expensive designed tarpolian [sic]”, highlighting the way in which the cover itself is the status symbol in this image. Frank’s prowess in image-making lies in suggestion, in what might be hidden, or resting just outside the frame. In this image, Frank questions if the appearance of wealth is just as important as wealth itself.

Kerouac’s choice to describe the car as ‘shrouded’ by the tarpaulin invites the viewer to compare this image with the very next in the series, Car accident – U.S. 66, between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona, depicting four onlookers surrounding a covered corpse on the roadside. With a turn of the page the corpse of the car is anthropomorphized, as Frank points to the freedom of the automobile pushed to its limits, and the ultimate futility of American ostentation.

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