This past January, Bark Frameworks hosted a lively evening at our Long Island City facility with the Brooklyn Museum’s Young Leadership Council. The event was part of the Museum’s “YLC 101” series, which covers various aspects of art collecting. The evening was inspired by the Museum’s current exhibit, Monet to Morisot: The Real and Imagined in European Art, curated by Lisa Small, Senior Curator of European Art at the Brooklyn Museum, which remains on view until November 2023. The installation features around ninety 19th- and early 20th-century works from the Museum’s collection, with eight important works in custom frames designed and fabricated by Bark Frameworks.

A glimpse of the “Monet to Morisot: The Real and Imagined in European Art” exhibition,                                                                          currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

“Monet to Morisot” brought major Impressionist and Modern paintings back on view after a long global tour, and was an opportunity for reconsideration and reflection. The exhibit reconsiders work by artists born in Europe or its colonies via critical questions such as: “What is real and what is imagined in works that assert and reflect views of gender, class, labor, colonialism, and nature? Who produces these frames of reference, and for whom?” It was also an opportunity to reflect on the unique frames that were designed for these pieces at Bark Frameworks two decades ago.

Susan Fisher speaks to the Brooklyn Museum’s Young Leadership Council as they tour the                                                                        Bark Frameworks facility/woodshop.

Bark CEO Susan Fisher, a presenter at the event, delved into the Bark Frameworks archive to shed light on designing new frames for such major works. This preparation meant a masterclass with the artist Jed Bark, who founded Bark Frameworks in 1969 in SoHo. Bark’s collaboration with the Brooklyn Museum began in the late 1990s and furthered a passion for experimentation and engagement with artists and art history. Bark’s collaborator at the museum was Dr. Elizabeth Easton—co-founder of the Center for Curatorial Leadership—who led the museum’s European Paintings department from 1999 until 2007. For the Impressionist works, Easton and Bark worked together in a reframing campaign over a five-year period circa 2000– in a collaborative relationship that continues to this day. Each frame was designed only for that singular work, and none else. The care and amount of work that went into each frame is perhaps most evident in the centerpiece of the exhibit, Monet’s “The Doge’s Palace.”

Bark designer Amy Hinten (blue shirt) speaks to the group about our framing processes.

Bark and Easton’s research entailed hundreds of hours of travel and looking at other framed works by the artists, and archival research into their frame designs and preferences. For the Monet, five years of research between Easton and Bark went into a new frame. In its old gilded frame at the Brooklyn Museum, the picture’s vitality was diminished. Its grey tone did not enhance its vibrancy, while the center and corner decorations of the frame competed with the dynamic geometry of the composition.  The painting, both modern and dominating, fought with 18th-century solutions.

Sketches over the summer of 2001 show Jed Bark getting to the final design for the Monet over several months. The final frame is a hand-carved gilded frame, with three rows of short hand-carved flutes. These read as ripples, like those of the Grand Canal, which gradually step up from the picture plane. These were carved then cut in narrow strips and reassembled. The goal was that the frame does not interfere, or lead the viewer; rather, the flutes create a radiating effect. They do not control movement in or out, to or from the painting. Even the outer hollow section of the frame is hand-carved. Bark deemed the hand-carved frame as essential for a painting in which the hand of the artist is so evident. After the profile was carved, it was then gilded in white-gold leaf. Yellow gold, which would be conventional, was out of the question because it would be too jarring with Monet’s cool palette.  Easton and Bark had considered a painted frame (as the Impressionists introduced and so often used), but they decided it would call too much attention to itself in a museum gallery where gilded frames dominate.

The entryway to “Monet to Morisot” at the Brooklyn Museum. At right: Claude Monet’s “The                                                                            Doge’s Palace,” 1908, in a custom Bark Frameworks frame.
detail of Monet frame
A detail of the Monet frame, designed by Jed Bark for Bark Frameworks.

When speaking about the Monet frame around the time it was designed, Jed Bark stated: “the most important point is that the frame was designed to present this picture, and none other, in the most sympathetic way possible.” Collaboration, expert fabrication, and a great sympathy for the work of art, continue to inform the best frames produced today.

Photos: Jennifer Clark (Bark Frameworks) and courtesy of Lisa Small (Brooklyn Museum of Art).

Originally published: May 2023