Natalie Frank: Unbound is the first survey exhibition of Brooklyn, New York-based artist Natalie Frank’s (American, born 1980) drawings inspired by some of the best-known and most controversial literary narratives.
Spanning a decade of Frank’s feminist drawing practice, Unbound will present work from the artist’s four major drawing series, each of which is the result of Frank’s rigorous research. “Fairy tales captivated me because many began as women’s oral tales that articulated female desires and fears,” said Frank. “Yet over time their authorship was erased and their voices neutered. I restore the identities of these overlooked female artists and transform their stories to create contemporary, paradigm-breaking female heroines.”
In Tales of the Brothers Grimm (2011–14), Frank presents the unvarnished original nineteenth century versions of these tales as images that celebrate female agency by elevating heroines and villainesses alike. Expanding on the history of illustrated books, figurative painting, and personal and political narrative, Frank’s drawings comprise the largest collection of Grimm’s fairy tales ever portrayed by an artist.
With her characteristically fluid gestural marks, Frank adds visual drama to tales of revolt and transformation in her black-and-white gouache-on-paper drawings that represent key scenes from Jack Zipes’s anthology The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2017).
In a suite of gouache and chalk pastel drawings, Frank reclaims the feminist Story of O (2017–18) and gives image to the psychosexual narratives of the book’s key scenes. In masterfully carnal compositions, she depicts O, the female protagonist, consensually engaging in scenarios of physical submission, domination, love, lust, and sexual freedom. This series deepens Frank’s exploration into intertwined representations of identity and desire, laying bare the power structures and practices surrounding the complicated sexuality of female bodies.
Finally, Frank’s drawings of Madame d’Aulnoy’s (2019–20) shrewd heroines are anything but conventional. She presents the author’s fantastical stories through a complex layering of color, form, material, and gesture. Frank’s visual contradictions—combinations of abstraction and figuration—parallel d’Aulnoy’s female protagonists, who, by embodying both evil and virtuosity, present a nuanced understanding of female identity.
Frank’s practice, in dialogue with worldwide conversations about agency, power, gender, and the #MeTOO and TIME’S UP movements, continues to raise questions of equity and advocacy for women’s voices.
Natalie Frank: Unbound has been organized by MMoCA and Kemper Museum and co-curated by Leah Kolb, curator of exhibitions at MMoCA and Erin Dziedzic, director of curatorial affairs at Kemper Museum.