Styrofoam, disposable aluminium pans, and human hair are among the unconventional materials used by American conceptual artist Tom Friedman in his sardonic examinations of everyday visual perception.Read More
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Friedman took an interest in art from an early age. He studied graphic illustration at St. Louis' Washington University, graduating in 1988, before completing an MFA in Sculpture at the University of Illinois Chicago in 1990.
In Chicago, Friedman began to make works involving intense labour, ritualistic meditation, and lowly materials. For the early work Soap (1990), Friedman presented a bar of soap inlaid with his pubic hair in a spiral pattern.
For 1000 Hours of Staring (1992–1997), now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, Friedman presented a blank piece of paper that he claimed to have stared at for 1000 hours. He also once asked a witch to curse a particular space of the gallery, creating a work whose existence depends on the viewer's belief.
Tom Friedman's art, purposely evasive of a traceable sense of continuity, spans the field of painting, drawing, sculpture, video, and installation. His oeuvre is holistically defined by its dead-pan humour, quotidian references, and challenging of perception, as well as the use of unconventional and irreverent materials.
Noting the eclectic directions taken in his practice, The Center Magazine quotes Friedman saying, 'I tend to do one thing and then look to the opposite.' Among his sculptural works are a life-size self-portrait made of sugar cubes, abstract constructions made from hundreds of toothpicks and pencils, life-size human characters rendered in Styrofoam, and depictions of impossible physics like a balloon lifting a wooden lectern.
Friedman has also created three-dimensional monochrome paintings made with paint and materials like Styrofoam and small everyday objects. Roberta Smith described Friedman's Blue and Toxic Green Luscious Green (both 2014), presented in his 2014 solo exhibition Paint and Styrofoam at Luhring Augustine Bushwick, as 'bas-relief pileups of objects, trash and words'.
Tom Friedman's paintings and drawings on paper conceptually break down objects, ideas, and everyday life, often with tongue-in-cheek humour. 'Art, for me', Friedman says, 'is a context to slow the viewer's experience from their everyday life in order to think about things they haven't thought about. Or to think in a new way.'
Clown (2018) breaks down an image of a clown's face into intercepting arrows. In Mom Watching Shoa (2018), Friedman sketches out an image of his mother watching the nine-hour Holocaust documentary; inserting a contradictory levity, the artist vividly renders the colourful cushion next to her and a bowl of jelly beans on the table. In Not Dot (2018), he explores the full expressive range of dots contained in a square.
In the last decade, Tom Friedman has expanded his practice to making sculpture for public spaces. Cast from maquettes made from aluminium roasting trays, Tom Friedman's stainless-steel, figurative sculptures such as Looking Up (2020) present whimsical moments for passers-by.
Friedman has also worked with digital projections and computer technology. In the series 'Ghosts and UFOs: Projections for Well-Lit Spaces' (2017), Friedman employs light to subtly render animations of the immaterial, like patterns of light cast through a window.
Tom Friedman's solo exhibitions include Tom Friedman: Eternal Return, projects + gallery, St. Louis, Missouri (2019); Tom Friedman: Up in the Air, Magasin III Museum for Contemporary Art, Stockholm (2010); REAM, Saint Louis Art Museum (2009); Tom Friedman: The Epic in the Everyday, Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago (2000); and Projects 50: Tom Friedman, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York (1995).
Friedman's group exhibitions include Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio, and Speed Museum of Art, Louisville (2021–2022); Mad World, Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles (2018); After Photoshop, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2012); The Shapes of Space, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2007); and New Work: Drawing Today, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), San Francisco (1997).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2021