Since 1969 Bark Frameworks has designed and produced frames for contemporary and modern art with the simple goal of serving the art being presented. From those early years till the present we have pursued innovative design while establishing the highest standard of preservation framing practice. These two commitments, to the aesthetics of frame design, and to the preservation of works we frame, have animated our business throughout our history.
We started out by framing works by our contemporaries, and over time our range has grown to embrace the framing of Western works from Impressionism forward. We have designed and built numerous frames for textiles as well as Asian works, especially scrolls and thangkas. The framing of photographs from the field’s earliest days to the present has become a specialty. Our designs for mirror frames are unique.
Bark Frameworks began in Jared Bark’s SoHo loft. Now, an employee-owned company, we work from our 27,000 square foot building in Long Island City. Since we make all our frames here in our LIC shop, we can offer an infinite variety of new frame designs as well as our frames that have become classics.
I really enjoy the spirit of dialog and open-mindedness that is present at Bark, and, as an artist who makes a wide range of works that must be framed, I can be sure when I come in for a session that a perfectly chosen design will be the result. The frame will come out of the needs of the specific work of art; both physical and aesthetic, and whatever is done for the safety and durability of the work will be nearly invisible, while the magic of the frame itself sings.- James Siena
In the 1970’s we were known for our simple, spare frames for the works of such artists as Donald Judd, Jasper Johns and Brice Marden. Soon we were framing for galleries and then collectors as well as for artists. Artists’ concern for the best possible display of their work is a high priority in our designs.
We framed this work by Mel Bochner in 1972. The frame is of basswood. In the 70’s we used many species besides basswood: maple, cherry, ash, walnut, red birch, butternut and others. At that time the only finishes we used were oils and waxes—no stains or painted finishes. Early on we modified profiles as needed for each frame, which at the time was a rare capacity. For this frame, at Bochner’s request, we ripped down our first milled profile so the proportions and scale suited the work . He appreciated our concern with, as he put it, “what goes on inside the frame, the life of the object, conservation issues.”
The sculptor Joel Shapiro is well known for his works on paper. He recently commented on the framing we were doing for him at this time: “The reduced frame was a manifestation of reductivist work. It’s not about décor; it’s someone’s vision….The frame mediates between private and public”. Shapiro’s drawing above, from 1979, is in a pearwood frame.
By the beginning of the 1980’s we began trying out a wide variety of exotic woods, such as Indian rosewood, padauk, bubinga, purpleheart and others—a number of these are shown at left. We still adhered to the simplicity of natural woods—we still rejected stained and painted finishes. It was Jared Bark’s encounter with a Charles Rennie Mackintosh chair at the Museum of Modern Art that sparked a change. The chair was made of oak; the grain was clearly visible, but the chair was an even, deep, black. Bark learned that Mackintosh’s furniture was finished with water based stains, which had largely fallen into disuse because they are difficult to handle and more time-consuming to apply than petroleum based stains. Water based stains are still the only stains we use.
After developing a range of stains for wooden frames we began to experiment with painted finishes. Our first sprayed finishes were white and black, and for a time that was the extent of our range. But we quickly began to fine-tune the whites, eventually creating a set of some twenty whites and off-whites. In the late eighties we designed a wide flat floating frame, which became known as the Marden frame when it was associated with his work; it is almost always finished with one of these white sprayed finishes. Marden finds this white frame effective: “The frame is supposed to be like the white of the wall. So you can see the whole physical situation. I didn’t want a line around the drawing to separate it from the wall.”
In the early 80’s we set up our first metal shop in Warwick, NY. Soon we were testing patinas on brass and aluminum frames. In our early enthusiasm we had copper and bronze extrusions made for us as well, which had a vogue for a short time. As our metal shop matured we became adept at milling an endless variety of metal shapes as we refined our subtle metal finishes. Our metal shop is now in our LIC building, allowing close collaboration between our designers and the artisans in our shop.
In 1990, in his Warwick studio, Jared Bark tried out methods of cladding wooden profiles with copper and brass sheet. Our clad frames were introduced in The Metropolitan Museum’s “The Waking Dream” photography exhibition in 1993. Cladding wood mouldings with metal allows us to create metallic forms with great flexibility—far greater than can be achieved with solid metal extrusions. We now clad frames with zinc and aluminum as well—zinc in response to Irving Penn’s request for frames that look like Paris rooftops. For photographs, clients often choose metal clad mouldings to evoke the patina of the photograph print itself, especially in framing albumin prints.
From our earliest years through the 1980s, we explored a wide range of frame profiles, materials and finishes within the modern idiom. In the early 90’s, prompted by exhibitions at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and at the Rijksmuseum, we looked to the Italian Renaissance and Seventeenth century Dutch framing traditions. Our first endeavor was to design variations of the Renaissance cassetta (“little box”) frame, starting with some close models of original profiles.
Dutch frame design was even more influential. First, we made exact renderings of a number of 17th century profiles in order to get the essence of the original forms. Some of these we used as they had been first conceived with finishes we developed—we never intended to mimic period frames using ebony, or ebonized finishes. It was their remarkable formal vocabulary that we drew from and worked with—the frame at left is an example: a 17th century Dutch profile in oiled walnut. Often we took sections of these profiles and used them in a new context, making new mouldings. When we collaborated with Maria Hambourg in designing new frames for “The Waking Dream” exhibition, they became a rich design source for us. Of the more than two hundred frames we made for this exhibition, a third made use of Dutch 17th c. elements. Since then, we use them in framing diverse artworks, including contemporary paintings and works on paper. When recently framing a photography exhibition for the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, we referred back to these profiles for the work of the late 19th century Dutch painter, George Breitner.
Edgar Degas made numerous sketches of frame profile designs, many of startling originality. After encountering them in art historical texts in the early 1990’s, Jared Bark made a point of examining the notebooks themselves at the Cabinet des Estampes of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris in 1998. From this first-hand view of the sketches, he recognized that Degas’ frame designs represented an important body of work that was virtually unknown and that should be brought forward. A collaboration had begun the year before with Elizabeth Easton, then Curator of European Painting and Sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum, who shared a deep interest in artists’ frames. One of our first projects for the museum was the framing of Degas’ “Femme au Tub”, shown at left. Over several years Bark Frameworks framed for the museum a number of Impressionist works under the direction of Easton, including works by Degas, Monet, Sisley, Morisot and Caillebotte. Bark and Easton collaborated in Degas frame research, publishing the results in the Burlington Magazine.
Most of Degas’ remarkable frame conceptions have never been realized, remaining as sketches in his notebooks. It has been a revelation to bring into three dimensions mouldings whose forms are completely unprecedented. His inventive designs remain unique in the history of framing, and we have decided that their forms can be best used in framing mirrors, where the frame can stand on its own as an extraordinary work of art.
Though our roots are in framing fine art, we have always applied our design and fabrication capacity to the making of mirror frames. We took this engagement a step further in the early 90’s when we cast and silvered our own mirrors, some of which we still stock. The architect Miguel Oks joined us for three years in designing mirror frames for our sister company, Bark New York, which is now integrated into Bark Frameworks. We still make many of the Bark NY mirrors.
Our interest in the creative prospects of designing frames for mirrors continues. Degas’ designs, noted above, are one source of inspiration—at left is a Degas frame on a silver leafed mirror. There are also a number of frames from our fine art framing repertoire that we plan to develop for mirrors, and there are new design concepts that we are actively pursuing.
In 1994, a year after framing the landmark exhibition “The Waking Dream”, which focused on the early years of photography, we were immersed in a far different museum photography exhibition, that of Richard Avedon at The Whitney Museum. Avedon had been intensely involved with presentation of his pictures for many years. For this exhibition we designed many different framing solutions and novel technical details, some of which have become part of our regular practice. The Whitney exhibition was followed in 2002 with the major Richard Avedon: Portraits exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. On view in that exhibition was the full range of Avedon’s presentation decisions over some forty years, of which those of the most recent decade were made by Bark Frameworks. We continue to be active in framing Avedon’s work, especially for the Richard Avedon Foundation. In discussing his work and our framing of it, Avedon said to Jared Bark, “I’ve always wanted a direct connection between the person I’m photographing—through me and the camera onto the print. And to the person who looks at it. So the person who looks at it is facing the person in the image. I want you to feel you’re facing a person. What you have done is to understand that impulse.”
Ever since Bark Frameworks made its first profile, we have been constant in our commitment to the preservation of art that we frame. We don’t compromise on standards. We routinely perform tests on framing materials, and we continue to do research and develop new methods and tools. We share what we learn with the field, and look forward to doing so extensively on our website. Though the principles of framing artwork so it will live a long and healthy life remain constant, there is as well steady progress in understanding how to apply the principles, and techniques continually evolve. We keep current with the fine art conservation profession and with developments in conservation science.
Within the growth and change of frame design at Bark Frameworks, we are careful to retain the best of our work as we go along. In this way, we constantly expand and deepen our range and capacity. We still make the simple stem profiles that Bark first designed in 1970. Our investigation of exotic wood species in the 80’s, whose popularity waned for some time, echoes now in our development of our own wood sources in pursuit of sustainable forestry. We intend to re-vitalize the use of exotic woods, not from endangered rain forests but from our own woodlot at the Bark family farm in upstate New York. In all respects we plan to hold on to what is best from our past as we grow and evolve.