By PILAR VILADAS
The French designer Jean-Michel Frank lived a short life — he committed suicide in 1941, at the age of 46 — but his interior and furniture designs became among the most influential of his century, and they haven’t lost their power to astonish. A case in point is the exhibition “Jean-Michel Frank in Argentina,” which opens today (and runs through Nov. 19) at Gallery BAC in SoHo. The gallery — which was founded in 2001 by the architect Carlos Aparicio to sell 20th-century design of the elegant, pared-down style that Frank epitomized — is showing more than 30 objects in this exhibition, the first devoted to
Frank’s work in, and influence on, Argentina in the 1930s and 1940s. (A catalog, with an essay by the gallery’s director, James Buresh, offers plentiful illustrations.)
Argentina’s economy boomed between the world wars, and the wealthiest of its residents were frequent visitors to Paris, often spending months at a time there. By the early 1930s, Frank was big in Buenos Aires. His Paris shop inspired the brothers Ignacio and Ricardo Pirovano to found the furniture and decorating firm Comte, which imported Frank’s work. By 1937, Comte was producing his designs locally, and soon Frank was designing pieces (like a striking oak lounge chair with doe-hide upholstery) specifically for Argentinian projects like the Llao Llao Hotel in Patagonia, or the sumptuous Born house in Buenos Aires, the library of which was lined in Hermès leather, and which had a three-panel screen by Salvador Dalí and lighting by Alberto Giacometti.
Argentinians “got” Frank, and among his good friends and patrons was Eugenia Erràzuriz, whom Frank famously quoted, in a 1938 article in Harper’s Bazaar, as saying, “ . . .Throw out and keep throwing out. Elegance means elimination.” The same could be said of Frank’s designs; an iron and leather settee in the exhibition looks perfectly distilled — and still modern after all these years.