For Fraenkel Gallery’s 40th Anniversary, we’re celebrating with a retrospective look at some of the people, occasions, and works of art that have made up the gallery’s first four decades. Thank you for being a part of our memorable journey thus far, including more than 350 exhibitions, 80 art fairs, and 66 books spanning photography’s beginnings to multidisciplinary work of the present day.
Fraenkel Gallery opened in 1979 at 55 Grant Avenue in San Francisco, and immediately brought new attention to under-recognized and seldom-exhibited photographs by 19th-century artists Carleton Watkins, Timothy O’Sullivan, Anna Atkins, and Eadweard Muybridge and significant 20th-century artists, including Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Helen Levitt, Lee Friedlander, Diane Arbus, Robert Adams, Garry Winogrand, and Bruce Conner. In these early years, the gallery also began its publishing program of books and posters.
The gallery is a place that is separate and apart from one’s daily grind, with objects that will slow you down and engage your brain. Jeffrey Fraenkel
A favorite Fraenkel Gallery memory for me is of Jeffrey showing me on-screen theater photographs of the movie “Baby Doll” by Diane Arbus—who was a tremendous influence on me through my entire career. That stands out the most, even before getting to know the gallery as well as I do now. John Waters
In the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, in 1991 Fraenkel Gallery moved to a larger space at 49 Geary Street, one short block from our first location. The gallery expanded the range of artworks and media featured in our exhibitions and books, including solo shows of artists such as Nan Goldin, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Sophie Calle, Richard Avedon, Sol LeWitt, Gilbert & George, Jay DeFeo, and Bernd and Hilla Becher, as well as group shows encompassing sculpture, drawing, and mixed media.
For me, the gallery is very much a crossroads of ideas, of artists, of books, of people who come in with varying experiences. Frish Brandt
It’s been a phenomenal ride with the gallery. Every show has been brilliant, stimulating, exciting and challenging. The publications, every show is hung so beautifully, the announcements—I still have them all, I just love them (no other galleries were doing that at the time). The detail that you put into shows is just unlike any other gallery out there. Richard Misrach
In the 2000s, Fraenkel Gallery began to feature even more artists whose work is not strictly—or not at all—photographic. The gallery’s ambitious exhibitions during this decade included Edward Hopper & Company, Nothing and Everything: Painting, Photography, Drawing & Sculpture 1896–2006, Christ in a lobby and Other Unknown or Almost Known Works by Diane Arbus (curated by Robert Gober), Not Exactly Photographs, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and Ralph Eugene Meatyard: The Family Album of Lucybelle Crater.
The gallery also added Katy Grannan, Peter Hujar, Christian Marclay, and Ralph Eugene Meatyard to our roster, increased publishing to at least one new title each year, and expanded our international footprint to encompass Art Basel and Paris Photo.
Forty years ago, Jeffrey called me and said, “I’m starting a gallery. I’d like you to be part of it, and I’ll buy five prints.” Well nobody was buying five prints in those days, and he did that. Lee Friedlander
This is a big part of why we have the gallery; we are so fortunate to have the people who work here. This is a picture of a picnic we had for an anniversary. This is the fabric of the gallery, these opportunities to share time and space with these people who make these pictures and ask these questions. This was a rare, rare opportunity. That’s why we do it; that’s why I do it. Frish Brandt
In the 2010s, Fraenkel Gallery has exhibited a wider swath of multi-disciplinary work, as well as video, sculpture, paintings, film posters, and record albums. The gallery’s roster expanded to include younger artists—Alec Soth, Richard T. Walker, Wardell Milan, Elisheva Biernoff, and Richard Learoyd—as well as those working in a range of media, such as Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller and Mel Bochner. The satellite space FraenkelLAB ran from 2016 through 2017 with a diverse and experimental program. Following the expansion of SFMOMA in 2016, San Francisco became even more firmly established as an international destination for photography and contemporary art.
The phrase that comes to mind when I think of Fraenkel Gallery is ‘best in class.’ Andy Pilara
As a youngster coming up as a photographer, I was intimidated by a lot of galleries—and still am to this day—but I developed a relationship with Frish and felt welcomed into this space. Alec Soth
When I think of Fraenkel Gallery, I think of how I received an education in not just photography, but in looking. The gallery—its shows, its artists, its staff, its Fraenkel—have transformed the way I see. They’ve taught me that a good artist is not necessarily someone who records the extraordinary, but who forces us to reconsider the ordinary. Hanya Yanagihara
Fraenkel Gallery to me is: a bastion, an inner sanctum, protectors of art, shepherds, magicians… Elisheva Biernoff
On the occasion of its 40th anniversary, Fraenkel Gallery has rededicated itself to presenting work in a wide variety of contemporary media–not at all limited to photo-based work–while maintaining photography as a through-line for its exhibitions and publications.
We are here because we believe that real-life encounters with art—even when mysterious or provocative in ways beyond understanding—can affect us deeply. Our collective, ongoing conversation only has meaning through the involvement of colleagues, visitors, and followers far and wide who understand art’s importance. Jeffrey & Frish