The aim of this exhibit is to examine the work of mid-career artist Lisa Frank and her contribution to, as well as appropriation of, popular youth culture. The retrospective is made possible by donations from collectors who have maintained their interest in Frank's work from their 90's child-hood into young adulthood. The title of the exhibition is a reference to the posthumous retrospective of Alexander McQueen, entitled Savage Beauty. The link is made to inquire the status of how commercial artists can enter and influence the often self-proclaimed autonomous zone of "fine art". The curators seek to encourage debate on how and if commercial artists should be recognized in the arts. The collection ranges from school supplies from the mid-90s to more recent products and apparel marketed towards the nostalgic twenty-something. Furthermore, the curators selected several official Lisa Frank "flashbacks" from her facebook page. These works were selected because of the iconic status they received or they represented departures in Frank's usual practice.
Our overall objective was to investigate the relationship between fine art and commercial art using the vernacular of a haute couture retrospective. Lisa Frank designs are iconic to people of our generation, and we wanted to critically explore this commodity. We chose to take Lisa Frank's designs out of their traditional commercial environment and display them in a way to change their purpose. Our curatorial decision to change the product's original context became our mode of critiquing the assumption that expensive products are closer to fine art because of its social status.
The process of organizing Rainbow Beauty began with research into the iconic objects and characters that define Lisa Frank. From this we decided on key objects that should be in the show, such as school binders and pencils, as well as stickers and stuffed animals. The first challenged we faced was from the lack of information on Lisa Frank's career and even Lisa Frank herself. There was very little information behind her inspirations, changes in style, and personal life. We decided to contact the Lisa Frank team and successfully reached her personal assistant, Jacqueline Gambrell, who expressed enthusiasm for the project on Lisa's behalf but was unable to provide us with more biographical or artistic information.
Next came the solicitation of artwork from Lisa Frank fans in the Brown community and at home. Many students and friends were enthusiastic about the retrospective, and by the end of April we had collected over a dozen objects from personal collections. We had received all the items we had hoped for except a stuffed animal, so that was ordered off the Lisa Frank website to complete our exhibition vision. The only other piece that is not from a private collection is the Flashbacks print. We then devised ways to display these objects in the Underground in the Campus Center, which was the next challenge. Items in that space cannot be hung directly from the walls because they're brick; instead we had to hang from the ceiling. Our solution came in the form of display boxes, which we crafted to hang by fishing wire. Since the Lisa Frank artifacts were borrowed from collections and were going to be displayed in a public space, our main concern was safety. We covered the items in the display boxes and the stuffed animal with plexiglas to deter theft.
Last came the installation process, which was the more difficult than we had anticipated. We wanted the show to resemble a traditional art exhibition, but there were not many spaces we could attach things to the wall, and no mounting tape or attachments would stick to the brick. Most items were able to be hung from the ceiling and luckily, the Underground has a built in shelf in our display area that we used for our binders and bags, or else our display methods would have to be rethought. Overall, this was the biggest challenge in our curatorial process.
The Lisa Frank Retrospective was held in the Underground of the Stephan Robert Campus Center of Brown University. This space is open to the students during the day, and occassionally hosts events and meetings. We felt the space would be appropriate for the retrospective because of the flow of student and workers, and for it's aesthetic qualities. Though it is not the traditional "white box", the brick and the industrial features lend to an alternative atmosphere, reminiscent of a warehouse show. The show also included a handout detailing the purpose of the retrospective.
The final exhibition included twelve items, three of which are various assembled supplies in display boxes. Our biggest supporter was Chihiro Hashimoto, who lent us a large portion of his collection for the show. The artifacts include:
Lisa Frank Flashback poster
Hunter Stuffed Animal
Casey & Claymus Folder
Sheet of Assorted Marine Animal Stickers
Various small school supplies such as pencils, notebooks, and tape.
Angel Kitty Bag and Binder
and Party Flags