Robert Fraser (art dealer)
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|Born||13 August 1937|
|Died||27 January 1986(aged 48)|
Robert Fraser (13 August 1937 – 27 January 1986) was a noted London art dealer of the 1960s and beyond. "Groovy Bob" was a pivotal figure in the London cultural scene of the mid to late sixties, and was close to members of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. In February 2015, Pace London presented A Strong Sweet Smell of Incense, A Portrait of Robert Fraser, an exhibition that took as inspiration the character and career of Robert Fraser.
Early life and education
Robert Fraser was born on 13 August 1937, the son of the banker Sir Lionel Fraser, who had started as a newspaper delivery boy. Lionel Fraser's father was butler to Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of the Selfridges department store chain.
After a period spent working in galleries in the United States, he returned to England and with the help of his father (a wealthy financier who had also been a trustee of the Tate Gallery), in 1962 he established the Robert Fraser Gallery at 69 Duke Street, Grosvenor Square, London. The gallery interior was designed by Cedric Price.
The Robert Fraser Gallery became a focal point for modern art in Britain, and through his exhibitions he helped to launch and promote the work of many important new British and American artists including Peter Blake, Bridget Riley, Jann Haworth, Richard Hamilton, Gilbert and George, Harold Cohen, Eduardo Paolozzi, Andy Warhol, Jim Dine and Ed Ruscha. Fraser also sold work by René Magritte, Jean Dubuffet, Balthus and Hans Bellmer.
In 1966 the Robert Fraser Gallery was prosecuted for staging an exhibition of works by Jim Dine that was described as indecent (but not obscene). The works were removed from the gallery by Scotland Yard and Fraser was charged under a 19th-century law that applied to street beggars. Fraser was fined 20 guineas and legal costs.
Fraser became well known as a trendsetter during the Sixties – Paul McCartney has described him as "one of the most influential people of the London Sixties scene". His London flat and his gallery were the foci of a "jet-set" salon of top pop stars, artists, writers and other celebrities, including members of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, photographer Michael Cooper, designer Christopher Gibbs, Marianne Faithfull, Dennis Hopper (who introduced Fraser to satirist Terry Southern), William Burroughs and Kenneth Anger. Because of this, he was given the nickname "Groovy Bob" by the writer Terry Southern. He is also thought to be an inspiration for the character "Dr. Robert" in the song of the same name on The Beatles album Revolver.
Fraser art-directed the cover for The Beatles' 1967 LP Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band – he dissuaded the group from using the original design, a psychedelic artwork created by the design collective The Fool, instead suggesting the pop artist, Peter Blake, who created the famous collage cover design.
Fraser also gave McCartney a small painting of an apple by René Magritte which is believed to have been the inspiration for the name and logo of the Beatles' record company, Apple Records. It was also through Fraser that Richard Hamilton was selected to design the poster for the White Album. His gallery also hosted "You Are Here", Lennon's own foray into avant garde art during 1968.
He was a close friend of the Rolling Stones and was present at the infamous 1967 party at Keith Richards' country house, 'Redlands', which was raided by police, leading to the subsequent arrests and trials of Mick Jagger, Richards, and Fraser on drug possession charges. The event is commemorated by the famous 1968 Richard Hamilton work Swingeing London 67, a collage of contemporary press clippings about the case, and the seminal portrait of Richards and Fraser handcuffed together also entitled Swingeing London. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/sep/13/richard-hamilton-artist-dies.
Fraser always insisted that neither Jagger or Richards actually had any drugs with them and that everything found by the police actually belonged to him. During the bust he persuaded the officers that his 20 heroin pills were actually for an upset stomach and offered them only 1 for testing. The subsequent press headlines and rumours of a Mars bar being involved were completely false.
Although Jagger and Richards were acquitted on appeal, Fraser pleaded guilty on charges of possession of heroin and was sentenced to six months hard labour. After his release Fraser's interest in the gallery declined as his heroin addiction grew worse, and he closed the business in 1969.
1970s and 1980s
Fraser left the UK and spent several years in India during the 1970s. He returned to London in the early 1980s and opened a second gallery in 1983 with a show of paintings by the stained glass and architectural artist Brian Clarke, but by this time he was suffering from chronic drug and alcohol problems and the gallery never replicated the success of its predecessor, although Fraser was again influential in promoting the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.
It soon transpired that Fraser was also suffering from AIDS, making him one of the first 'celebrity' victims of the disease in the UK.
In 1985 he sold his Cork Street gallery to Victoria Miro, who subsequently created the successful Victoria Miro Gallery. Fraser seemed disillusioned and told her at the time "You'll never make a contemporary art gallery work in this country."
Fraser was cared for by the Terence Higgins Trust during his final illness and is said to have been the first person with AIDS in Britain who was able to die at home. He died in January 1986.
- Harriet Vyner – Groovy Bob: the life and times of Robert Fraser (Faber, London 1999).
- Stewart, Lucretia (5 August 2001). "Almost Famous". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
- Roberts, Richard. "Fraser, (William) Lionel (1895–1965)". ODNB. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
- "Robert Fraser Gallery group". London: National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
- Gail Gerber with Tom Lisanti (1 January 2009). Trippin' with Terry Southern: What I Think I Remember. McFarland. pp. 48–. ISBN 978-0-7864-8727-1.
- Miles, Barry. (2014). Call Me Burroughs: A Life. New York: Twelve. p. 380.
- "'Swingeing London 67 – poster', Richard Hamilton". Tate Gallery. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
- Stephen Wade (5 June 2014). Famous Prisoners of Wormwood Scrubs. Andrews UK Limited. pp. 138–. ISBN 978-1-909183-53-7.
- Atlantes and Astragals: Works by Brian Clarke (exhibition catalogue), Christie's London, 2011, p. 64
- "The Old Etonian who rolled with the Stones". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2016-07-26.
- O'Hagan, Sean. "Victoria Miro, queen of arts", The Observer, 11 July 2010. Retrieved 27 September 2013.