Furnishing Modernism

Celebrating the art of Frank Bros. at the University Art Museum

By Karrie Comfort Staff Writer

Series of chairs designed by Stacy Dukes (Karrie Comfort/Union Weekly)

From primary colored plastic chairs to bright advertisements, the “Frank Brothers: The Store that Modernized Modern” exhibit in the University Art Museum (UAM) takes you back to a time when modern was new.

Once World War II ended, America was captivated by consumerism and what has come to be called the mid-century modern design movement. During this time from 1938 to 1982, the Frank Bros., a Long Beach store devoted to modern furniture and home decor, was a pioneer for everything from advertising to store presentation. Furniture and modern design is not something I am familiar with, so I went to the University Art Museum, not knowing what to expect, but I can tell you I was not disappointed.

A tea set from the home of Ron & Nancy Frank (Karrie Comfort/Union Weekly)

When you step into the exhibit, it feels almost like an Ikea-esque world based on simple design, with very little extravagant, but instead places emphasis on curves and colors.

One of the first sections of the exhibit is a “hodge podge” of items, mostly toys, from the home of Ron and Nancy Frank, the owners of Frank Bros. Although the items in this section were not from their store, they reflect the spirit of design that ran throughout the whole exhibit. Carved wooden birds, simple ceramic coffee sets, as well as a large assortment of well-worn toys are just a few of the displays in this section.

The largest room in the exhibit is reminiscent of what the Frank Bros. were best known for: the feel of a museum and less of a furniture warehouse. There were metal and fabric desk chairs suspended from the ceiling by wires and plastic or composite wood chairs positioned at different angles below them. Every piece served a theatrical purpose in presenting a playful, quirky mood or emotional response for the viewers. This eclectic presentation style was truly a hallmark of the original Frank Bros. store.

After this main display, the second half of the exhibit divides into what I would characterize more as the business aspect of the Frank Bros. Here, it is easy to see how their mid-century-modern style, carries into their marketing style.

A descriptive feature on the wall said, “No object was too small or unimportant to escape the clutches of design at Frank Bros… Frank Bros. generated a prolific output of and mailers that were characterized by bright colors, playful humor, and clever text.”

The main exhibit, organized to feel like one of the original Frank Bros. showrooms (Karrie Comfort/Union Weekly)

In the final section of the exhibit, the viewer can see a range of printed materials, postcards, and advertisements made by this iconic furniture store. In vibrant colors and funky print, this portion of the exhibit is a must-see for marketing majors, because it takes you through a wonderful assortment of refreshing collection of simple yet enduring amount of marketing materials.

Modern art may not be for everyone, but the Frank Bros. exhibit is both functional and intriguing in a way that most furniture is not. Take fifteen minutes and walk through the “Frank Brothers: The Store that Modernized Modern” exhibit, because the design is worth the appreciation.

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