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Tom Friedman (American, b.b. 1965)
Birth Place: St. Louis, Missouri
Tom Friedman (b.1965) is a conceptual sculptor who works in multiple mediums including sculpture, painting, video, and installation pieces. His work, both deeply thoughtful and funny, is renowned the world over. Often using unconventional materials like hair, plastic, and styrofoam to create his pieces, he’s held solo exhibitions at the MoMA in New York, Magasin 3 in Stockholm, and countless other galleries and museums. Never one to be put in a box, Friedman debuted his sculpture Huddle (2017) for the Dallas Cowboy football team’s art collection. He’s the winner of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award and the Academy Award in Art from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Tom Friedman was born in St. Louis. He earned a BFA in graphic illustration from Washington University in 1988, then followed with an MFA in sculpture from the University of Illinois in 1990. It was during his time there that he began making conceptual sculptures from common items like toothpicks, sugar cubes, and dental floss. These items, used in re-contextualized ways, were a window into Friedman’s artistic world, funny, off-kilter, and thought-provoking. Tom Friedman’s Untitled (1990) is a perfect spiral made of pubic hair around a bar of soap.
Friedman’s first solo exhibition in New York was at the avant-garde gallery, Feature, Inc. in 1991. It was here that Friedman met Hudson, the gallery’s curator. Hudson’s approach to artists, which was hands off, appealed to the young and idealistic Friedman. Their partnership was creatively profitable, something that Friedman attributed to Hudson’s laissez-faire toward artists. "He understood the development of an artist and their vision,” said Friedman when asked about Hudson’s role in his work. “He could see so clearly the evolution of consciousness of an artist, and he knew how to push the work to the next level." The two would work closely together on countless solo exhibitions until Hudson’s death in 2014.
The 90s brought Friedman to the world, even as he continued to explore new avenues for conceptual sculpture. Big and Small (1995) consists of the word verisimilitude inkjet repeatedly printed on a small piece of printer paper. In Untitled (cereal box) (1999) Friedman cut and reformed nine Total cereal boxes to combine them into one giant box. It is this mix of high and low that allows Friedman’s work to be accessible to just about everyone who sees it. His undeniable sense of humor and play is always augmented by a streak of other-worldliness in these ordinary objects. It’s something Friedman describes as “orchestrating an experience.”
The 2000s have seen Friedman move to large, outdoor installations. Open Box (2007) is a large steel structure that suggests a giant open box. Looking Up (2015) features a giant sculpture of a figure looking toward the sky, made entirely of crushed aluminum foil roasting pans. Originally featured on Park Avenue in New York, it was moved to a permanent home on Chicago’s lakefront in 2017.
From the start, Tom Friedman’s work has enchanted and entertained by allowing us to glimpse our world from a different perspective. Like all great art, it shows us our experiences through a lens never before seen, an invaluable glimpse into the absurdity and beauty of our everyday lives
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