Friday, March 30, 2012


That's a self portrait of this artist. Artist Tom Friedman was a big hit seven years ago. Back then he was an up-and-coming name in the art world.

Emily Dickinson wrote;
"Ah, the fickle finger of fame.
Fame is a bee.
It has a song--
It has a sting--
Ah, too, it has a wing."

Since 1995, Friedman has done well in Europe -- he's has solo shows in London and also in Los Angeles, but in terms of sheer on-the-scene oomph, headlines, raves, he's faded into the sidelines. Maybe his art is too subtle? The big names in art right now, like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, create rather outlandish, shocking works.

I know the story well. You want to be famous, BE somebody. You toss the ball. It rolls. You're noticed. You get reviewed. Your picture is in the newspaper and magazines. People buy tickets, or buy your book, or visit the gallery that's showing your art. But the first big break needs to be followed by the next, and the next

Well, Tom Friedman is back. He's at the well-respected Luhring Augustine Gallery, in New York City, getting noticed again by critics.

His latest self-portrait seems to captures a moment in his career that's like the self- portrait Rembrandt did when he was bankrupt and exhausted, and also like van Gogh's portrait of himself when he was ear-less and very unfocused.

Just recently , Robert Storr, head of Yale’s art school, but formerly curator of Friedman’s highly touted exhibition at MOMA, in 1995, said: “Tom’s a very good artist, and I look forward to seeing him come back into view, but it will take a body of work that will snap people's heads around again."

The red painting, at the top of this page, is currently on display in NYC. It's Tom Friedman's portrait of himself as a suicidal jumper who has just hit the ground. It's made entirely from cut and folded paper. (I like it a lot.) Also on display, this eight-foot-tall statue of him peeing, modeled from crumpled turkey-roasting pans. (I am not overly impressed by it.)

I found right words about him in a review in 2009 by Suzanne Menghraj, which mentioned a self-portrait he carved from one aspirin, and his Play-doh sculpture -- hundreds of items made out of Play-doh that Friedman arranged in a circle 183 centimeters in diameter; also all the words in the English language as of 1995, written on a 91.5 centimeter squared sheet of paper. (My husband, John Cullum, asked, "All the words from what dictionary -- he wrote all of them out?" I researched this, but can't find the answer.)

Anyhow, Suzanne M. said, "Friedman’s miniatures gave me the experience of being transported not so much by the look of what I saw — the degrees of likeness, the shapes, the colors, the handwriting — as by its limitlessness, the infinite in the infinitesimal."

That resounds in my mind, and helps me make sense of other Friedman works.

I think a comeback is going to be tricky for Tom Friedman. I know the inner thoughts -- maybe you didn't roll the ball far enough seven years ago? -- what can you do that hasn't been done before, that isn't in museums nowadays? -- why are you thinking about fame? Don't think about success -- what you really feel like creating?

St. Augustine, in the "City of God," said: "The desire for fame tempts even noble minds."

Okay, you shut your ears, close down your mind, but fame/success thoughts invade. They must be stopped. You can't create and think about all that stuff.

Tom Friedman, you better glob onto these words by Lord Byron:
"What is fame? The advantage of being known by people of whom you yourself know nothing, and for whom you care as little."

Want to see more? Click: Various other works by Tom Friedman.


Ameer S. Washington said...

I think Lord Byron has it right. People don't give a damn, and most of the time I surely don't give a damn about enough of anything to care.

I guess fame sort of stems from the want to be noticed for what you're good at, and that's not so much a bad thing. It becomes bad when that's all that drives you. Being an artist is complicated because success often muddles what people think of you. They love you as a starving artist, clap when you succeed and then bash your work when you become rich, famous or both. It's the build you up and tear you down phenomena. And I must always remember that America/Americans love an underdog and a comeback story.

So I'm wondering how everyone will receive J.K. Rowlings new "adult" novel as she's termed it. The disconcerting thing is that I read a comment by someone on an article I read about this book say, "Doesn't she have enough money, why is she still writing." Little did they know, the last book she published had all the proceeds go to charity. Do we think successful people cannot be artistic?

Anonymous said...

Interesting blog today Em. Gives me a new and fresh view of a famous artist and his comeback success. I hope he makes it. I like his red art work picture at the top of the page, not so much him peeing statue-there are the old famous little boy statues all over the world already. It will be interesting to see if Friedman succeeds again as a great artist. kam

Unknown said...

Hi EM, I know so litte about 'art' and the 'art world' ~ there's so much more I don't know about everything than what I do know.
* * *
I love it when you write about 'art' because always I learn something I didn't know before. Much of the art itself I don't understand, let alone the mind from which it came from. You at least bring me 'glimpses' of art and artists that I would other wise never be exposed to. I am very grateful to you for this.
* * *
Much love Ms. EM to you and your John Cullem and FAMILY (JD, Ima still day dreaming for you.) I'm @grammakaye on twitter.

Linda Phillips said...

I can't say that I like his work based on just these two pieces. He is not someone whom I have paid any attention to, but what I see,I am not attracted to.

We can't all like the same things. I don't hate it. I just don't have any really strong, positive feelings about it.