Subverting Preconceptions of the Familiar: In Conversation with Tom Friedman on His First Solo Show in Seoul

Tom Friedman. Photo by Tony Luong. Image courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.
(Left) Tom Friedman, Hazmat Love, 2017, stainless steel, 150.5 x 118.1 x 107.3 cm, edition of 3. (Right) Tom Friedman, Being, 2021, mixed media and acrylic paint, 210.8 x 67.3 x 44.4 cm. © the artist. Images courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.
(Left) Tom Friedman, Wall, 2018, video projection, dimensions variable, edition of 6. (Right) Tom Friedman, Bee, 2022, wood, paint, flock, wire, thin plastic from a cigarette pack, artist’s hair, 7.6 x 7.6 x 3.8 cm. © the artist. Images courtesy of the artist; Luhring Augustine, New York; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.
(Left) Tom Friedman, Spacetime, 2019-2022, wire, paint, styrofoam, cardboard, aluminum foil, yarn, and pillow stuffing, 386.1 x 340.4 x 109.2 cm. (Right) Tom Friedman, Poppyseed, 2022. styrofoam and paint, 35.6 x 29.2 x 19.1 cm. © the artist. Images courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.
Tom Friedman, Looking Up, 2020, stainless steel 304.8 cm, edition of 2. © the artist. Image courtesy of the artist; Luhring Augustine, New York; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.
(Left) Tom Friedman, Pencil Embryo, 2022, coloured pencil on paper, spherical cap, mat black paint, 5.1 x 5.1 x 1.3 cm. (Right) Tom Friedman, Family, 2022, aluminum foil (to be cast in stainless-steel), 59.7 x 48.3 x 44.5 cm, edition of 3. © the artist. Images courtesy of the artist; Luhring Augustine, New York; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.
TOP
755
35
0
 
11
May
11
May
CoBo Social Design and Architecture

On the occasion of his first solo exhibition in South Korea with Lehmann Maupin, CoBo Social Managing Editor Denise Tsui spoke with conceptual artist Tom Friedman on why styrofoam is a favourite material, and what makes the top of his to-do list in Seoul.

TEXT: Denise Tsui
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin

 

Tom Friedman. Photo by Tony Luong. Image courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.

 

Meticulous and detail-orientated may find itself a new definition in the practice of conceptual artist Tom Friedman, whose playful sculptures and installations often subverts preconceptions  of the mundane and familiar and instils it with a twist. Walking into a room of Friedman’s works demands one to leave time still at the door, to be open to visiting, re-visiting, and re-visiting each work with a curious mind because that is how the artist intends for it to be experienced.

“What I try to do is stretch the mind and try to create a fluidity of thought of how do you go from this idea to that idea, which seems so far away, looks so different,” says Friedman. “I think of it as like I’m bringing ideas from one piece to another piece…but then with a goal of not merging them together so that they are the same, but so that there’s a harmonious difference between them.”

Believing art brings together various fields of study, from science and linguistics, to psychology, music and more, Friedman explains: “What I think is, art is an intersection of all the modes of investigation that there are. I find it very special that no other thing [than art] intersects and unites all those mediums together. I take advantage of that. My practice is very open-ended. It doesn’t seem like there is consistency unless you look very closely.”

And it is with this mindset of cross-pollination between seemingly disparate works that Friedman approaches his exhibitions as well, where the “the space in-between things” is activated through the act of looking and investigating.

“When you make sculpture, it’s really about the three-dimensional experience,” says the Massachusetts-based artist as we chat over Zoom ahead of his new exhibition in Seoul at Lehmann Maupin. “Many Things All at Once” marks his first solo show with the esteemed gallery since joining the roster in 2021, and the artist was excited to fly in to personally install his work. It is also his first time in the South Korean capital and he tells me that eating authentic Korean street food tops his list of must-do’s.

 

(Left) Tom Friedman, Hazmat Love, 2017, stainless steel, 150.5 x 118.1 x 107.3 cm, edition of 3. (Right) Tom Friedman, Being, 2021, mixed media and acrylic paint, 210.8 x 67.3 x 44.4 cm. © the artist. Images courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.

 

“Many Things All at Once” is a self-explanatory title for an exhibition that seeks to introduce the artist’s wide-ranging oeuvre to a new audience. “I approached this body of work, which is primarily new or recent work, so that it shows the spectrum of my investigation,” says Friedman. “It really pushes the disparateness of my work.” Works that will go on view encompass all the materials and logics signature to Friedman—among them, Hole in the wall (2022), literally a hole drilled into the wall at eye level with debris allowed to collect on the floor; Being (2021), a human figure bearing an open smiling mouth made up of household items and plastic toys; Spacetime (2019–2022), comprising of objects hung from the ceiling made of copper wire, styrofoam and other materials; and Hazmat Love (2017) which consists of two whimsical stainless steel sculptures embraced in a dance, cast from maquettes crafted in aluminium foil—a material high on Friedman’s list for its versatility, malleability, and lightweight properties.

“I work on a piece to make it as specific as I can, but then when they come together, I like thinking about their relationships to each other,” says Friedman. As we chat, it is evident how much thought the artist has put into “Many Things All at Once”.

(Left) Tom Friedman, Wall, 2018, video projection, dimensions variable, edition of 6. (Right) Tom Friedman, Bee, 2022, wood, paint, flock, wire, thin plastic from a cigarette pack, artist’s hair, 7.6 x 7.6 x 3.8 cm. © the artist. Images courtesy of the artist; Luhring Augustine, New York; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.

 

While there are no favourites, one highlight he mentions in our conversation is a 2018 video work titled Wall. “I really like [its] connection with the work that’s there,” Freidman explains, referencing a previous exhibition where Friedman explored the medium of video projections, focusing on the effect of light on space.

Also on view will be Bee (2022), a handmade larger-than-life size bumblebee quietly resting on the gallery wall. “I love bugs, I find them interesting,” he admits humorously. Bee belongs to a series of insect works that the artist has been making since the mid-1990s. It began with a fly on the wall, evolving into variations on the fly, then spiders such as a tarantula and daddy-long-legs, and eventually a swarm of bees, which was previously exhibited in Tokyo.

Born in Missouri in 1965, Friedman ascribes the need to make objects something inherent since his childhood. “I’ve just been making things since I could pick up Crayons or a marker was put in my hands and I just never put it down,” he explains. “I discovered that I learn about the world through making things, through playing with materials. I didn’t even know what art was, I just made things and I just never stopped doing that, then it became under the guise of art.”

On the mundanity being a subject within his practice, Friedman is clear. “It really comes from assimilating just my knowledge and experiences from my everyday life. There might be specific research I might do on something, but it’s really how I go about navigating my everyday life. There’s so much knowledge in things that seem very mundane. My work started out by working that way and it has continued.” And such was how one of his early iconic works was conceived, he chuckles, wondering if our conversation should cross this line of intimacy—but we do. Titled Soap (1990), the work comprises a used bar of soap inlaid with a spiral of Friedman’s pubic hair. “That just came from being in the shower and a piece of hair got stuck on the soap, which tends to be a very disgusting thing, but I saw a potential in that just as this happenstance thing.”

 

(Left) Tom Friedman, Spacetime, 2019-2022, wire, paint, styrofoam, cardboard, aluminum foil, yarn, and pillow stuffing, 386.1 x 340.4 x 109.2 cm. (Right) Tom Friedman, Poppyseed, 2022. styrofoam and paint, 35.6 x 29.2 x 19.1 cm. © the artist. Images courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.
Tom Friedman, Looking Up, 2020, stainless steel 304.8 cm, edition of 2. © the artist. Image courtesy of the artist; Luhring Augustine, New York; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.

 

When asked about his favourite material, Friedman’s answer is simple: styrofoam. “I find it the most versatile material in that you can carve it, you can cut it…I’ve cut it paper-thin, rolled it, flattened it, wrinkled it. Whatever you can do with paper you can do with styrofoam. Whatever you can build with wood, you can build with styrofoam.” The myriad reasons continue with the artist explaining he likes to keep things simple and lightweight, easy to move around—which is quite the contrary to his monumental outdoor sculptures for which Friedman has garnered much attention.

“A lot of the outdoor works that I do emanate from smaller pieces that I do for the indoors, and that maybe exist in a different material. Indoor work for me is much more quiet, subtle, and slower, and outdoor work is much more immediate,” says the artist. He tells me it is all about as impactfully grabbing a passerby’s attention as you can. And Looking Up, a sculpture portraying a quasi-human figure looking up, perhaps in awe at the sky, certainly does that. Originally created as a three-foot-tall (approx. 91 cm) sculpture and exhibited in London, a 10-foot-tall (approx. 300 cm) iteration was installed earlier this year at New York City’s Rockefeller Center. In 2014, a majestic 33-feet-tall (approx. 10 metre-tall) edition was created and temporarily exhibited across various locations with two now permanently located in Texas and Missouri. Meanwhile a new augmented reality version is soon to land in Hong Kong, taking Friedman’s iconic sculpture into a whole new spatial realm, crossing into the boundless space of the “phygital” that is gaining popularity these days.

“I like the intimate, mutual experience between the viewer and my artwork, I want there to not be a power dynamic, I strive to strip that away,” explains Friedman of how a gallery as exhibition setting differs for him. “In outdoor work however, trying to connect in a mutual way is still important. I think the figures that I do, like Looking Up, there’s a logic to making it so tall because I want the viewer to look up. If the piece is taller, they’re going to look up, so I’m asking them to, in a way, mimic the piece and empathise with it.”

Where logic and illogic intersect appears to be where Friedman’s conceptual practice resides, nonetheless with the artist expanding his oeuvre into video projection and digital technologies, the next question we may ask is how Friedman will come to take on this new giant—where sculpture exists in a spatial flux. Perhaps the answer will be hinted in “Many Things All at Once”.

 

(Left) Tom Friedman, Pencil Embryo, 2022, coloured pencil on paper, spherical cap, mat black paint, 5.1 x 5.1 x 1.3 cm. (Right) Tom Friedman, Family, 2022, aluminum foil (to be cast in stainless-steel), 59.7 x 48.3 x 44.5 cm, edition of 3. © the artist. Images courtesy of the artist; Luhring Augustine, New York; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.

 

Many Things All at Once
12 May – 25 June 2022
Lehmann Maupin, Seoul

 

You might also enjoy reading

 

 

 
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply