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by Charlie Finch
Natalie Frank, "Unveiling," Jan. 26-Mar. 11, 2006 at Briggs Robinson Gallery, 527 W. 29th St., New York, N.Y. 10001

We first met Natalie Frank through Mia Fineman of the New York Times, who taught Natalie at Yale. Natalie was in our son’s class there, but they were not particularly friendly. Nevertheless, we journeyed to Natalie’s Columbia studio last summer and liked what we saw.

Natalie, at 25, was one of the hardest working painters we’ve seen, ever. The Columbia MFA program was switching studios last summer and had no air conditioning. In the heat, Natalie sweated through acrylics and oils in a wife beater shirt for twelve hours at a time. At our direction, she would wipe away days of work in a flash to add a cascade of decaying flowers or some phallic armature.

We asked her if she had heard of Delvaux, a painter whose walk with love and death reflects Natalie’s own. "No," was her reply.

Our colleague Jerry Saltz who teaches at Columbia has also dropped by Natalie’s studio. But, as we often do for artists, for free, we set out to find Natalie some shows.

We put some drawings in Buia Gallery, which Richard Massey snapped up. Eventually the collector, who is a big backer of Exit Art, bought four paintings and seven drawings from Natalie’s studio, through us and Vanessa Buia.

Artist Adam Stennett was curating a summer show at 31 Grand, Heather Stephens’ cutting-edge Brooklyn space. We recommended Ms. Frank, and she, and her Yale classmate Elizabeth Huey, were the stars of that show. Like most young people, Natalie is obsessed with the intersection of desire and mortality, a painterly attitude in sync with boomer collectors.

Our dear friend Bettina Smith, director of Briggs Robinson Gallery, was looking for a young, virginal star, and, on our nod, curated Natalie’s first solo show, now on view through March 11.

We should add that Natalie is no slouch at promoting herself. She’s won two Fulbrights and studied at the Sorbonne. Her friend April Gornik has April’s dealer Renato Danese visiting Natalie’s studio, and Natalie’s friend, curator Nan Rosenthal, is also a powerful presence in her life.

Jack Tilton put Natalie in a group show this January, and will feature Natalie in his booth at the Armory Show, but Briggs Robinson is fighting hard to retain the youthful hotshot, by shipping her to London for a solo this fall. In spite of the fact that another major collector, with ties to the Gagosian gallery, is taking a position in Natalie’s work, the bet here is that she will stay with Briggs Robinson for at least a couple of years.

In the face of all this light and heat, is Natalie’s work any good? Well, yes and no. Vogue magazine, which is considering covering Natalie, is the perfect matrix for her painterly concerns -- she works fast and along the surface of lust and decay. The mournful, Pre-Raphaelite sensibility verges on outright kitsch, yet Ms. Frank never falls over the edge. That is the source of her power. Psychic brush control.

She has let her guard down only once, in a small Lucian Freud-like Self-portrait, painted right before her new show, snapped up by the collector Ranbir Singh.

The piece shows a quizzical, confused, alarmed Natalie, a naked expose of the artist’s ambition and insecurity. It is a masterpiece of self-exposure and a harbinger that, perhaps in the future, Ms. Frank will strip away the kitschey veneer and show herself in all her flawed, ambitious glory.

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).