Photography by Matteo Pastorio

Frish Brandt is the president and co-owner of the Fraenkel Gallery, based in San Francisco and specializing on photography. For 30 years she has been working with all kinds of collectors, institutions and of course, artists: Richard Learoyd, Katy Grannan, Idris Khan, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Robert Adams, Adam Fuss, Nicholas Nixon, to name a few. We met her, as you might have guessed, through photography, and after some emails, sympathy and a little curiosity, we ended up having her over for a visit to our HQ.


What is your relationship with Mutina?

I think it started before I realized it started. I only became really aware of Massimo in the last 6 months, when he was corresponding with the gallery and my associate Emily about a particular artist, Hiroshi Sugimoto. At some point Emily said “the questions are getting complicated I think that you should get involved”. Our correspondence was very pleasurable and direct, very playful.

Massimo is very passionate about art. When you got in contact with him, did you do a little research about who he was?

Actually I didn’t, until we got further through the negotiation and at the point that we were deciding how to frame the pictures, I thought: I wonder what Mutina is. So i looked at the signature and I clicked down on it and I started looking at the collections and I was so moved by the aesthetic. I immediately wrote back and I said: well, your design is very beautiful, and it helps me understand what’s going on here.


You’ve been in Modena for the last couple of days. What did you enjoy the most?

I would say getting to know Massimo and Giuliana and Vanessa and Mutina, and what they do here.

Have you had a look at the collections? Can you point out one thing you liked the most?

I think more than everything it’s the palette that I find so exciting. It’s the palette and the different ways it’s applied: when you look at one line and you see another line or a similar pattern, but you see that the same color appear again, it’s beautiful.

Mutina is moving towards contemporary art because it’s passionate about it and because it’s almost a natural process. Do you think there’s a particular artist that could suit the Mutina aesthetics?

Yes, the first artist I think is no longer alive, but Sol Lewitt would be perfect. He would have really loved working with these materials, and he loved Italy as he had a home in Spoleto. He was all about variations on a theme, different combinations, shapes, lines and colors… He would have been great. I haven’t decided who else, but i’m thinking hard about it.


Tell us a bit about yourself. You’ve been working at Frankel Gallery for 30 years and recently you’ve became the President. How do you feel about it?

When we started the gallery, which was 35 years ago, few people collected photographs; photography was not considered “Art.” So over the years we have really been involved and practicing our practice, we’ve been pioneers, navigating the distance that has helped to make photography “Art.” And it’s been great. You might think that working in the same place for so many years would be routine, familiar, but I have to say that everyday is different, interesting, challenging.

So do you think that now photography has conquered its place in the contemporary art?

I think it depends a bit on who you ask and in what country you are. In the US photography is largely accepted as contemporary art, but not quite everywhere. As there are many ways to serve tomatoes, there are many ways to make photography (journalistic, narrative, abstract, conceptual). There’s a considerable range in the medium, and people (more in EU and in the US and increasingly in parts of Asia) are learning the different languages of photography.


I think it’s a matter of legacy and the history of a culture. In EU you have such an ancient history and monuments and arts that belongs to centuries ago, that there are to many prejudices on such a new art like photography. American people, on the contrary, being a “new” population, without any comparison to the past, they are way more open to any kind of new “new” visual art.

It’s interesting what you say, because of course photography was born officially in Europe in 1839. However photography arrived into the US just as we started crossing the continent in the mid 19th century. It was as if the advent of photography was born just in time to document this growth and discovery which ultimately concludes in California.   California seems a perfect place for photography then and now, beginning with Carleton Watkins’ landscape photographs of the 1860s, moving into the early 1900s with Edward Weston, evolving into the F/64 Group in the 1920s and 1930s and continuing all the way to the invention of digital photography in Silicon Valley.

What do you think about videos?

I’m really interested in video, in experiential art also, even sound art. I think video will have to navigate a similar path as photography did. Photography was long criticized because it was mechanical ly based. Now we have digital media and everybody take s pictures every moment of the day . The well-regarded curator John Szarkowski said “there are more pictures than bricks ” and now…there are even more.  The particular challenge of video is the time it requires to view , and now people have so little time to surrender to the experience ,. It’s a different art-viewing contract, but i really like video and sound works.