NEW YORK - Comprising nearly all of the photographs that Robert Frank selected for his classic book The Americans, the Ruth and Jake Bloom Collection offers a unique opportunity to see these iconic images anew. So compelling on the printed page, these pictures gain new resonance when seen together as photographic prints. The Bloom Collection demonstrates that, nearly sixty years after these images were taken, they retain all of their descriptive and aesthetic rigor. Their relevance has not been diminished by the passing years.


Ruth and Jake Bloom began collecting in the 1960s, early in their professional careers, buying the work of living artists that they could afford. Their sharp-eyed and prescient approach soon earned them a position as top collectors in Los Angeles, and in the country — a status they maintain today. Among the artists collected by the Blooms through the decades are Chris Burden, Roland Reiss, Robert Longo, Robert Gober, Rona Pondik, Jeff Koons, Ann Hamilton, Yoshitomo Nara, and Gregory Crewdson. They collected Damien Hirst before he had been shown in America. The Blooms developed a reputation for taking risks and championing the work of younger artists. This dedication led Ruth, in 1988, to open her eponymous gallery, which soon became known as a premier venue for cutting-edge art.

In the early 1990s, the Blooms purchased their first Robert Frank photograph, Yale Commencement (The Americans, no. 21), which they subsequently gave to their son upon his graduation from that university. That purchase was soon followed by others. Both Blooms had long been familiar with Frank’s work, and were especially drawn to his Americans series, which had a personal significance for them. Frank’s photographs reminded them of the country they had traveled through on family trips in their youth. His images captured both the poverty and patriotism of the time, and showed a multi-racial society that was divided by deep lines of segregation. The mobility afforded the average American by the increasingly ubiquitous automobile is a motif of the book, and this resonated strongly with the Blooms, as did Frank’s depiction of political pageantry and backroom dealings. So central were these images to the Blooms’ sense of the complexities of America that they embarked upon the grand endeavor of acquiring every image in Frank’s book.


Purchasing from dealers and galleries, auction houses, and at art fairs, the Blooms had made significant early progress: by 1998 they had collected 39 of the 83 photographs in the book. The Blooms had the good fortune to begin collecting Frank when his reputation as a great photographer was assured, but prices for his work were comparatively low. The acquisition of the 38 additional photographs they would ultimately collect, through the late 1990s and into the new century, was a more difficult task, as prices grew higher and scarcity made some images all but unattainable.

The Americans is an isolated subset of the Blooms’ collection, with similarities to, and differences from, the whole. Much of the artwork in the Blooms’ ever-evolving collection is related to photography, or uses photography in some way. The Blooms tend to focus on work that artists create in direct response to the world around them. Their Frank collection, too, follows the Blooms’ pattern of acquiring artists’ work in depth. But Frank’s work is the one purely, classically, photographic component of their holdings. As this collection grew, it was given pride-of-place on the walls of their Sun Valley home.


Frank selected, sequenced, and published The Americans as a cohesive whole, and as such it constitutes one of the seminal photographic and cultural documents of the 20th century. The book is composed, however, of individual images, each the product of intelligent observation and daring photographic technique. Each photograph speaks volumes about its time and place, and contains within its frame a microcosm of Frank’s project. It is a testament to Frank’s abilities that these images continue to compel us to view them attentively after the passage of more than half a century. And this is the opportunity uniquely presented by the collection of Ruth and Jake Bloom.