Frankly Speaking, Karen Robb

Earlier this year asking me about my favorite art exhibit would have gotten you a quick and exuberant response.   Without any  thought I would have quickly replied the Guggenheim’s 2012 exhibit Picasso Black and White.  Arranged chronologically around the Guggenheim’s spiral gallery, the exhibit was a unique experience.  Seeing the works (many privately owned) in the order in which they were painted and in a colorless medium allowed me to watch the artist’s work evolve in a way that was easy for someone uneducated about art to grasp.  It was basic but vast. I adored most of the art, the way the exhibit was arranged and think back on it often.

While in Mason City this September, Mr. Wine told me that there was an exhibit in town called Frankly Speaking. He said he thought I would like it. He handed me a brochure.  The brochure cover showed a building atop a woman’s head, and I could not understand why he thought we should go.  I said okay but voiced my distaste for the concept.  He went on to explain that it was a series of paintings with famous actresses wearing Frank Lloyd Wright buildings as hats.  Okay.

Karen Robb's The Night Cap

Karen Robb’s The Night Cap

Fast forward.  We walked into the Wright on the Park office on the plaza, and the first painting we encountered was titled The Night Cap with Audrey Hepburn wearing the Guggenheim as a hat.  I was surprised by my reaction of delight.  The painting’s story hung beneath it and it pulled me in further. I moved to the next.

With perfect timing as I was on the brink of excitement, had picked up the pace and reached the third painting with enthusiasm building, Wright on the Park’s executive director, Caitlin Callahan, introduced herself and told us the fascinating story of the exhibit and how it came to be in Mason City.  Caitlin became acquainted with Karen Robb’s work through social media, started a conversation and ultimately offered inspiration for Wright on Rita, the painting of the Historic Park Inn Hotel being worn by Rita Hayworth.  By the time I understood that Tallulah Bankhead was wearing City National Bank on her head, I was gushing praise for the cleverness and execution of Karen Robb’s work.

As if falling in love with a group of paintings after dismissing it earlier wasn’t the greatest thing ever, it was announced Karen Robb was going to be making a personal appearance the very next day! By the time we met the artist I was so infatuated with her work,  I must admit that I felt a bit star struck talking with her.  She was just as terrific as her paintings.  She freshly discussed how her concepts unfold and what might come next with anyone who wanted to listen as if it was the first time she had been asked. It was an honor to meet someone combining cleverness with her talent to bring us Frank Lloyd Wright in a way it has never been seen.

Do not dismiss this work! Karen Robb’s collection, Frankly Speaking, has the distinction of knocking Pablo Picasso to number two in my list of favorite exhibits.  That is huge.  Big bonus points to Mr. Wine for the gentle encouragement to walk down the street to check it out.  I bought the notecard set as a souvenir of our visit.  I am framing them, so I can relive the exhibit in miniature every day!

Night Cap, Audrey Hepburn wearing the Guggenheim
The Lake House, Veronica Lake wearing Fallingwater
With Style and Grace, Grace Kelly wearing the David Wright House
Taylor Made, Elizabeth Taylor wearing the Gammage Auditorium
Human Wrights, Marlene Dietrich wearing the Beth Shalom Synagogue
There’s No Place Like Home, Judy Garland wearing Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio
Wright on Rita, Rita Hayworth wearing Historic Park Inn Hotel
Bankhead, Tallulah Bankhead wearing City National Bank
Frankly Scarlett, Vivian Leigh wearing Auldbrass Plantation
Stockman and Bacall, Lauren Bacall wearing Stockman House
In Black and Wright, Marilyn Monroe wearing Hollyhock House
Frankly Speaking, Frank Lloyd Wright in his own hat

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