Natalie Frank: Unbound

New York-based artist Natalie Frank (American, born 1980) transforms some of the best-known and most controversial literary narratives into stirring visual media.

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Portrait of Natalie Frank, Daniel Kunitz, 2021, From the collection of: Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
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Installation view of "Natalie Frank: Unbound" (2022) by Natalie FrankKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Natalie Frank: Unbound

Natalie Frank: Unbound brings together selections from her four major bodies of drawings: Tales of the Brothers Grimm (2011–14), The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2016), Story of O (2017–18), and Madame d’Aulnoy (2019–20).

Installation view of "Natalie Frank: Unbound" (2022) by Natalie FrankKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Collected between 1812 and 1857, the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, including classics such as “Cinderella,” “Snow White,” and “Rapunzel,” are known and loved by children the world over.

Little Red Cap I (2011/2014) by Natalie FrankKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Little Red Cap I

Frank writes, "In the early version of this tale, the wolf cross dresses as Red Cap’s grandmother, and here I show him dressed in a corset with his genitalia exposed."

Little Red Cap I

"In other versions, Red Cap performs a strip tease for the wolf, and this sexual frisson electrified questions of sexuality, domination and performance."

Rapunzel III (2011/2014) by Natalie FrankKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Rapunzel III

Although gathered and adapted for print by the Brothers Grimm, these narratives initially were conceived of, collected, and shared largely by women. 

Snow White IV (2011/2014) by Natalie FrankKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Snow White IV

Natalie Frank interprets the unsanitized versions of these tales into feminist images that elevate heroines and villainesses to celebrate female agency.

Brier Rose III (2011/2014) by Natalie FrankKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Brier Rose III

Frank writes, "This scene depicts Briar Rose and the prince who comes to save her. In earlier versions, which I compress and honor in this version, Briar is raped by her father, impregnated and left to sleep for years. She is awoken by her twins breastfeeding." 

Brier Rose III

Frank writes, "This saving by the Prince – the act of sleep as a form of submission – is one that I translate into a violence act with aggressive coloration." 

Installation view of "Natalie Frank: Unbound" (2022) by Natalie FrankKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The Story of O

Story of O is an erotic novel published in 1954 under the pseudonym Pauline Réage. With its graphic descriptions of sexual exploration, the text has been praised by many feminists as a celebration of women’s empowerment.

Story of O X (2017/2018) by Natalie FrankKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Story of O X

Frank writes, "The sex positive feminist tale of Story of O begins with O’s lover taking her to a chateau, introducing her to a world where she can discover her sexuality and identity." 

Story of O I (2017/2018) by Natalie FrankKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Story of O I

"This scene shows O slipping off her panties. Her lover is fragmented; she is wholly rendered. She performs this act for her own thrill, not for him."  

Installation view of Story of O XV (2017/2018) by Natalie FrankKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The Story of O

The works in this series are presented against wallpaper produced by Flavor Paper and designed by Marian Bantjes, with drawings by Frank. The full suite of Frank’s Story of O drawings were published by Lucia | Marquand (2018). 

Detail of "Power, My Dear" wallpaper (from the Fempower collection by Flavorpaper) (2022) by Natalie FrankKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Detail of "Power, My Dear"

Detail of "Power, My Dear" wallpaper (from the Fempower collection by Flavorpaper), from original design by Natalie Frank (American, born 1980) in chalk pastel and gouache. © Natalie Frank. Photo: E. G. Schempf, 2022.

Installation view of "Natalie Frank: Unbound" (2022)Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Madame d’Aulnoy

Madame d’Aulnoy was a seventeenth-century French aristocrat who coined the term “fairy tale” (contes de fées) to describe the genre of fiction that she, along with other talented female writers, authored and introduced into literary salons in the 1690s.

Island of Happiness I (2019/2020) by Natalie FrankKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Island of Happiness I

Eschewing traditional fairy-tale concepts of dainty princesses with delicate constitutions, d’Aulnoy and her cadre of fairy tellers instead centered their stories on strong heroines.

Installation view of "Natalie Frank: Unbound" (2022) by Natalie FrankKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Belle-Belle V

Frank’s visual contradictions—combinations of abstraction and figuration—parallel d’Aulnoy’s female protagonists, who, by embodying both evil and virtue, present a nuanced understanding of female identity.

Island of Happiness IV (2019/2020) by Natalie FrankKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Island of Happiness IV

This body of artwork is accompanied by the publication The Island of Happiness: Tales of Madame d’Aulnoy (2021), published by Princeton University Press.

Installation view of "Natalie Frank: Unbound" (2022) by Natalie FrankKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

In each of her twenty black-and-white gouache-on-paper drawings, she represents a key scene from Jack Zipes’s anthology The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Georg Pilk, “The Wendish Faust Legend” (2016) by Natalie FrankKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Georg Pilk, “The Wendish Faust Legend” (1900)

Alternating between aqueous washes of pigment and thick opaque strokes, she renders her compositions with a freshness and vitality that imbues the centuries-old tales with contemporary relevance.

Ovid, “Erysichthon and Mestra” (8 CE) (2016) by Natalie FrankKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Ovid, “Erysichthon and Mestra” (8 CE)

Frank’s drawings, published by Princeton University Press in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: An Anthology of Magical Tales (2017), are shown in their original form for the first time in this exhibition.

Installation view of "Natalie Frank: Unbound" (2022) by Natalie FrankKemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Natalie Frank: Unbound

Natalie Frank: Unbound has been organized by Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri and Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Wisconsin.

Credits: Story
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