On View at the Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park at Laguna Gloria
In a career spanning nearly thirty years, the conceptualist Tom Friedman (American, born 1965 in St. Louis, Missouri) has been a master of transforming the mundane into the improbable and the extraordinary. In his sculptures, paintings, and installations, the trappings of the everyday serve as fodder for his interrogations into material, form, and content. Friedman’s work often manipulates the gap between appearance and fact, wherein things seemingly made of one thing are actually composed of another. Nonprecious materials such as trash, paper, Styrofoam, paint, and aluminum foil are used to make hyper-real renditions of pepperoni pizza, apples, or New Balance sneakers (all out of Styrofoam); a bloody three-dimensional self-portrait depicting the artist splattered on the ground (created from folded and crumpled paper); or a paper towel roll (made entirely of dried and peeled paint).
Among the most celebrated recent works by Friedman under this umbrella are the artist’s crushed aluminum foil roasting-pan figures, sculptural objects that blend classic modernist sculpture with a child’s playful constructions. In the first stages of creation, Friedman carves his figures in rudimentary Styrofoam, then covers them with crushed baking tins, like a skin overlaying the foam structure. Through a process of molding and lost wax casting, the figures are eventually converted into stainless steel while retaining the detail and imprint of the baking tins. Towering nearly thirty-three feet high, Looking Up, 2015, is among the largest and most spectacular of these works, a major new acquisition by The Contemporary Austin for the grounds of the Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park at Laguna Gloria, exhibited for the first time in completion at this scale. (The original incarnation, Untitled (Looking Up), 2012, was first seen in a solo exhibition at Stephen Friedman Gallery in London and stood just over thirty-three inches tall. And in characteristic Friedman wit, another earlier version featured the figure relieving himself in a corner. Here, he simply looks upward and observes.) As in much of Friedman’s practice, which culls from art historical tradition with an intent to subvert, the work combines an investigation of low-brow materials—in this case, baking tins—with massive scale and the permanence of steel. While figuration is a timeworn subject for artists, Looking Up brings to mind in particular the great modernist Alberto Giacometti’s walking men, which reached their culmination in his solitary figures of the early 1960s: elegant sculptures that subsumed the appearance of motion within static three-dimensional form and whose slender, haunting silhouettes became emblems of the post–World War II psyche. Likewise imbued with complex dualities, Friedman’s figure is both delightful, a curious (if giant) wanderer who has found his way to the grounds, and poignant, his stance evoking the existential human condition. At once charming, magnificent, fragile, and powerful, the figure looks to the clouds and blue sky, inviting others to stand at its base and do the same.
—Heather Pesanti, Senior Curator
Tom Friedman (American, born 1965 in St. Louis, Missouri) currently lives and works in Massachusetts. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Washington University in 1988 and his Master of Fine Arts from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1990. Friedman’s recent solo exhibitions include Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; Luhring Augustine Bushwick, New York City; and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (all 2014); Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall (2010); the Saint Louis Art Museum and Tomio Koyama Gallery, Kyoto (both 2009); and Lever House, New York City (2007). His work has also been featured in numerous group exhibitions internationally, including Arts & Foods at La Triennale di Milano, curated by Germano Celant (2015); the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City (both 2012); the Geffen Contemporary at MoCA, Los Angeles (2005); and the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, and the Serpentine Gallery, London (both 2000).
Friedman has been the recipient of a grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, a Luther Gregg Sullivan Visiting Artist fellowship from Wesleyan University, an Arts and Letters Award in Art from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and an Individual Artist Support fellowship from the Illinois Arts Council.
The artist's work is included in collections worldwide, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York City; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Aspen Art Museum; and Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall.