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Phaidon Press

Tom Friedman

Table of Contents

003 Interview: Dennis Cooper in Conversation with Tom Friedman 038 Survey: Bruce Hainley Self Portrait as “Untitled” (without armature) 080 Focus: Adrian Searle “Untitled” 1993 092 Artist’s Choice: Robert Walser “The Dinner Party” 1919 093 Timothy Leary: Glossary, Info-Psychology 1975-76 098 Artist’s Writings: Tom Friedman Ingredients 1990 106 Untitled 1992 107 Untitled 1995

108 Notebook Selection: 1995 109 Untitled 1995 110 Down 1995 111 Meaniemo Tigertoe 1995 112 Interview: Robert Storr 1995 118 Notebook Selection: 1997 120 Untitled 1997 122 Hudson 1997 134 Future 1999 138 Chronology Bibliography and 151 List of Illustrations



The work of Tom Friedman captures for many the

Frequently the artist works at a minute scale,

essence of the art at the beginning of a new cen-

such as his self-portrait carved from an aspirin

tury: modest in scale; imaginative, and ecological;

(Untitled, 1994); in other instances the work

painstakingly crafted and ‘unheroic’.Friedman

connects to the 1960’s Conceptualism, as in

suggests a new direction in art–post-video, post

the blank piece of paper titled 1,000 Hours of

political/identity issues; post-digital media; post

Staring (1992-97). This is art that explores the

readymade. The artist works in a windowless

relationship between the everday and the art

studio (more like a playground- kitchen-laboratory

experience, focusing on small transformations

in rural Massachusetts, relentlessly inventing

that produce sudden beauty. Solo exhibitions

startling ephemeral objects out of a diverse range

of Tom Friedman’s work have been held at the

of household materials, such as Styrofoam,

Museum of Modern Art, New York (1995) and

masking tape, pencils, toilet paper, spaghetti,

the Art Institute of Chicago (1996). A major

toothpicks, and bubblegum.)

touring exhibition,

‘Tom Friedman, runs from 2000 to 2002 at the

British artist and writer Adrian Searle focuses

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Yerba

on the work Untitled, 1993, a perfect circle of

Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; the

plastic drinking cups and examines the artist’s

New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York;

uncanny transformation of the unfamiliar into

Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art,

an object of unexpected beauty. The artist has

Winston- Salem, North Carolina; and Aspen Art

selected a short story The Dinner Party (1919)

Museum, Colorado. In this Survey, American Art

by Swiss writer Robert Walser that reflects the

Critic Bruce Hainley examines the artist’s principal

artist’s interest in the magic of ordinary events,

works to date, and centres upon Friedman’s work

and the glossary to a psychological volume,

as self- portraiture. Los Angeles based writer

Info Psychology (1975-76), by Timothy Leary

Dennis Cooper discusses with the artist his

that echoes the artist’s own list- like form of

working processes, as well as the artist’s non-art

writing. Tom Friedman’s texts range from an

influences, such as contemporary

interview with Hudson, Director of the New

electronic music.

York gallery Feature Inc., to fragments from the artist’s notebooks and text works.



Dennis Cooper in Conversation with Tom Fredman

Friedman’s work hovers somewhere between

At this point I sort of dropped the idea of making art;

simplicity and absurdity; “between the assumption

it was more about discovering

of casualness and the discovery of intensity.” An

a beginning.”

investigative process defines Friedman’s work, as he loops in powers of ten from the ordinary to

Metaphorically clearing a mental space, the

the complex and back. Friedman’s breakthrough

studio also served to mimic a museum’s starkness:

work begins in 1989 while still a graduate student

“[The museum] is this place that demands you to

at the University of Illinois in Chicago. His work

slow down experience, and bring all of who you are

until then was

to the experience.” The space allowed him to isolate

primarily focused on large, charcoal based

the interaction between himself and the art. “Every-

drawings. “At the time, the program was very con-

day I would bring an object from my apartment and

ceptually based, and this language being used to

place it in the space.” The objects began to acquire

talk about art was so foreign to me. I was forced

meditative qualities, reflecting the experience Fried-

to address why I was doing these drawings and

man was bringing to them. The soft-edged circle,

it paralyzed me.” Frustrated, he cleared out his

concentrated in the center and diffusing outward, is

studio, boarded up the windows, and painted

a reoccurring motif in Friedman’s work. Simultane-

everything white. “

ously imploding and exploding, the form, like the big bang itself, haunts him with its circular logic.


Chapter 1

Dim to perceive yet fascinating to ponder, Friedman began obsessively mapping out complex systems. Not to understand them (impossible), but to reveal something in quantity. “What interests me is my inability to process everything I’m confronted with and the idea of the whole.”9 From 1992 to 1995, Friedman transcribed every word from a standard English dictionary onto a 36 inch by 36 inch sheet of paper (Everything, 1992-1995). The words are spread out heterogeneously, like paint splatters, mapping a textured blue landscape. You wouldn’t think that an artist whose media include bubble gum, Styrofoam and spaghetti would have trouble finding materials. But just recently Tom Friedman found out that the only source for the exact-size sugar cubes he used in a 1999 self-portrait was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. Making things out of kitchen staples and uploads/2011/10/DSCF2427.jpg?9d7bd4

other household items may sound like child’s

Where do you get your ideas?

play. But it’s a life’s work for the St. Louis native, who has exhibited and sold his whimsical

Friedman: It all started with an interest in

wares all over the globe.

philosophy that led to an interest in Eastern philosophy, which is kind of a Buddhist phi-

On Friday, April 8, the alumni association of

losophy. It worked well for me because it had

his alma mater John Burroughs will present

to do with self-exploration. But my work is very

theconceptual artist with the 2011 Outstand-

playful and I’m trying to create a mutual expe-

ing Alumnus Award. That evening, an exhibi-

rience so my work has a sense of humility, so

tion of his work, curated by local collector

that it’s not like it’s saying, “Look at me, you

and fellow Burroughs alum Jim Probstein, will

asshole.” It’s trying to be much more equal

open at the school.

and not overpowering – the playing is important for that. Take the trash can piece, with

Friedman, who graduated from Burroughs in

a garbage can that I was using in the studio.

1983 and now lives in Leverett, Mass., told

That happened after I went through a divorce.

the Beacon that his work stems from philosophical inspirations but also has a

So it was kind of like I was throwing myself

sense of fun.

away for a new beginning;



Where do you get your ideas?

cathartic piece. And it’s not just a negative

I like to know when the author lived, and

thing, but a new beginning, when you

where he or she grew up. What’s the signifi-

Friedman: It all started with an interest in

think about that the legs are making a

cance of the materials you use?

philosophy that led to an interest in Eastern

“V” for victory. it’s kind of a cathartic piece. And

philosophy, which is kind of a Buddhist philoso-

it’s not just a negative thing, but a new beginning,

Friedman: Using everyday materials is a way

phy. It worked well for me because it had to do

when you think about that the legs are making a

of connecting with people. Not a lot of people

with self-exploration. But my work is very

“V” for victory.

may have had an experience with traditional

playful and I’m trying to create a mutual experience so my work has a sense of humility, so

art materials, but these familiar materials have You’ve done a number of self-portraits. Why?

that it’s not like it’s saying, “Look at me, you ass-

materials, and that can lead them to ask how

hole.” It’s trying to be much more equal and not

Friedman: That grew out of an old tradition of art-

overpowering – the playing is important for that.

ists doing self-portraits, that sense of

Take the trash can piece, with a garbage can

having images of the maker and answering the

that I was using in the studio. That happened

question, “Who is the author of these piece?”

after I went through a divorce.

Usually in a show I would have one self-portrait to

Friedman: That grew out of an old tradition of

define the other pieces, and to lead people to see

artists doing self-portraits, that sense of

where I was coming from.

having images of the maker and answering the

So it was kind of like I was throwing myself away for a new beginning; it’s kind of a


meaning for them. Yet, I’ve transformed the and why did it go from here to there. You’ve done a number of self-portraits. Why?

question, “Who is the author of these piece?”

Chapter 1

Previous Page Circle Dance Installation Below Untitled 199560

Usually in a show I would have one self-portrait to

Friedman: I think that my appreciation of

define the other pieces, and to lead people to see

Burroughs is more in retrospect now that I

where I was coming from. It’s like when I listen

have three kids who are 2, 13 and 16. I was

to music or read a book, I like to know when the

pretty socially inept at Burroughs, probably like

author lived, and where he or she grew up.

most people, and I pretty much spent most of my free time in the art building. The facilities

What’s the significance of the materials you use?

were so amazing, and, often, no one else was there and I could play around. That became

Friedman: Using everyday materials is a way of

my studio. Every day I went to the art building

connecting with people. Not a lot of people may

and did something and that momentum just

have had an experience with traditional art materi-

kept going up until today. If there weren’t facili-

als, but these familiar materials have meaning for

ties in my high school that allowed me to do

them. Yet, I’ve transformed the materials, and that

that, then who knows if that momentum would

can lead them to ask how and why did it go from

have even developed?

here to there. Also I realized later how prepared I was for What impact did your Burroughs education have

things I had to do even as an artist, such as

on your career?

having to write and think critically.



Survey: Bruce Hainley Self Portrait as “Untitled” (without armature)

017 adaa-tom-friedman-james-cohan.jpg

Previous Page Small World 1995-1997 Modeling clay 72 inches in diameter Below Garbage Can 2003 60 x 39 x 22 1/2 in

I would try them,” he recalls. “Like, I remember

Friedman played drums and noodled around

when The Six Million Dollar Man came out, I tried

on guitar, though never with any serious intent.

to make a bionic arm out of soda cans — trying

Instead, he says, the art form shows up in the

to figure out how to make the fingers and using

rhythms and textures of his work.

string so you could pull on them and make them move.” He also collected feathers, which he’d

“Music is temporal, so you go from the begin-

fashion into wings. “I’d take the cardboard from

ning to the end,” he explains. “But I still think

my dad’s new shirts and poke holes and glue the

about the art experience: Like, someone

feathers in. Cardinals, blue jays — I had a shoe-

comes to look at my work. What is the first

box that was filled with them.”

thing they see, the next, how do they transition from one piece to the next? And then stepping

At Burroughs Friedman tended to keep to himself;

back and seeing the totality of it. I do think

it’s probably no coincidence that the two sports

about it in a temporal way, as well.”

he played — golf and wrestling — were solo pursuits. Music was — and still remains — a source

One of the works chosen for the Bonsack Gal-

of inspiration.

lery exhibit is Vanishing Point, a photogravure composed of 25 plates Friedman made while a visiting artist at Washington University’s


Chapter 2

Island Press. Local artist Cameron Fuller, a grad

by dime-store humor. Other works in the

student at the time, remembers working on the

Bonsack show include There, a mixed-media

piece with Friedman. “He’d take his plate and

sculpture in which a pristine white cube

sit in a far corner of the studio and draw alone,”

appears to have fallen into a pool of paint,

Fuller recalls. “Then he’d come back to us and

resulting in a multicolored “splat”; and an un-

share what he’d done. He was a quiet but tireless

titled relief print in which the spectral form of a


figure appears to be dissolving into the dotted atmosphere that surrounds it.

“Being in groups of other people and then wanting to go home but not being able to

Says Friedman: “I find that in my work, it’s

find my car.”

really about the physical and the mental, and learning from that. I think one thing that was

and how they just throw their things around.” As in

good was that, because I was so unconscious

most of his work, Friedman freights metaphysical

[when I was young], a baseball metaphor (one

content with a punch line, often creating a high art

artist wanted to

of contradictions: What first appears dismissible

I really explored the physical world, whether

turns out to be the product of labor and skill, and

it was through movement or material — using

the most dryly serious conceit can be cut

my hands.”

“They start acting like they did in high

school — it’s like Pavlov’s dog.” Friedman

will test that theory this weekend, when he returns to his alma mater to be honored as

John Burroughs School’s 2011 outstanding alumnus. Friedman, who graduated in 1983, is in good company; other creative progeny of Burroughs include John HartTo mark the occasion of the Burroughs award, the school’s Bonsack Gallery is exhibiting a selection of Friedman’s work. Best known for his use of common materials to create works of bewildering procedural rigor and, often, hyper-realistic verisimilitude, Friedman is perhaps most astounding for his almost gymnastic diversity — from a starburst crafted from wooden toothpicks to a perfect cosmos rendered in laundry detergent. 039

Using a simple form repeatedly narrows the field of the work and concentrates the intensity to the arrangement of the form. This arrangement becomes the end while the form becomes

in a different way. Recently there has been much written about minimal art, but I have not discovered anyone who admits to doing this kind

the means.

of thing. There are other art forms around called

Conceptual art doesn’t really have much to do

mini-art. No artist I know will own up to any of

with mathematics, philosophy, or nay other mental discipline. The mathematics used by most artists is simple arithmetic or simple number systems. The philosophy of the work is implicit in the work and it is not an illustration of any system

primary structures, reductive, ejective, cool, and these either. Therefore I conclude that it is part of a secret language that art critics use when communicating with each other through the medium of art magazines.

of philosophy.

Mini-art is best because it reminds one of

It doesn’t really matter if the viewer understands

very small works of art. This is a very good idea.

the concepts of the artist by seeing the art. Once it is out of his hand the artist has no control over the way a viewer will perceive the work. 040

Different people will understand the same thing

miniskirts and long-legged girls. It must refer to Perhaps “mini-art” shows could be sent around the country in matchboxes.

Or maybe the mini-artist is a very small person; say less than five feet tall. If so, much good work will be found in the primary schools (primary school primary structures). If the artist carries through his idea and makes it into visible form, then all the steps in the process are of importance. The idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product. All intervening steps –scribbles, sketches, drawings, failed works, models, studies, thoughts, conversations– are of interest. Those that show the thought process of the artist are sometimes more interesting than the final product.

Chapter 2

Determining what size a piece should be is difficult. If an idea requires three dimensions then it would seem any size would do. The question would be what size is best. If the thing were made gigantic then the sizealone would be impressive and the idea may be lost entirely. Again, if it is too small, it may bcome inconsequential. The height of the viewer may have some bearing on the work and also the size of the space into which it will be placed. The artist may wish to place objects higher than the eye level of the viewer, or lower. I think the piece must be large enough to give the viewer whatever information he needs to understand

Any volume would occupy space. It is air and cannot be seen. It is the interval between things that can be measured. The intervals and measurements can be important to a work of art. If certain distances are important they will be made obvious in the piece. If space is relatively unimportant it can be regularized and made equal (things placed equal distances apart) to mitigate any interest in interval. Regular space might also become a metric time element, a kind of regular beat or pulse. When the interval is kept regular whatever is irregular gains more importance.

the work and placed in such a way that will

Architecture and three-dimensional art are of

facilitate this understanding. Space can be

completely opposite natures.

thought of as the cubic area occupied by a three-dimen-

The former is concerned with making an area with a specific function. Architecture, whether it is a work of art or not, must be utilitarian or else fail completely. Art is not utilitarian. When three-dimensional art starts to take on some of the characteristics, such as forming utilitarian areas, it weakens its function as art. When the viewer is dwarfed by the larger size of a piece this domination emphasizes the physical and emotive power of the form at the expense of losing the idea of the piece. New materials are one of the great afflictions of contemporary art. Some artists confuse new materials with new ideas. There is nothing worse than seeing art that wallows in gaudy baubles.

sional volume. 041


Focus: Adrian Searle “Untitled” 1993

Below untitled 1999

Color, surface, texture, and shape only empha-

as possible to my thinking at this time. These

size the physical aspects of the work. Anything

ideas are the result of my work as an artist

that calls attention to and interests the viewer in

and are subject to change as my experience

this physicality is a deterrent to our understanding


of the idea and is used as an expressive device. The conceptual artist would want o ameliorate this

I have tried to state them with as much

emphasis on materiality as much as possible or

clarity as possible. If the statements I make

to use it in a paradoxical way (to convert it into an

are unclear it may mean the thinking is

idea). This kind of art, then, should be stated with

unclear. Even while writing these ideas there

the greatest economy of means. Any idea that is

seemed to be obvious inconsistencies (which

better stated in two dimensions should not be in

I have tried to correct, but others will probably

three dimensions. Ideas may also be stated with

slip by). I do not advocate a conceptual form

numbers, photographs, or words or any way the

of art for all artists. I have found that it has

artist chooses, the form being unimportant.

worked well for me while other ways have not. It is one way of making art; other ways suit


artwork and viewer has been transformed.

other artists. Nor do I think all conceptual art

These paragraphs are not intended as categorical

merits the viewer’s attention. Conceptual art

imperatives, but the ideas stated are as close

is good only when the idea is good.

Chapter 3

“Conceptual Art” is a contemporary form of artistic

and consequently, for the artists of this human-

as a direct result of modernism’s attempt to

representation, in which a specific concept or

ity and the environment was once again a

flee the constraints of traditional easel paint-

idea, often personal, complex

matter of dispute. Artists were tilizing the

ing, now gained widespread use as visual art-

and inclusive, takes shape in an abstract,

latest technological advances in expressing

ists sought to expand their working space; and

nonconforming manner, based upon a

their concepts. The ability to magnetically

large-scale works appropriate to their space

negation of aesthetic principles.

record image and sound and display the

and function were created.In 1968, a group

recorded material on any number of screens,

of English artists known as “Art and Language

brought “Video Art” into visual art exhibitions.

Group” gathered to discuss theory and

Conceptual Art is different from “Concept” as the content of art, but can be considered an abstract

practice in relation to artistic creativity. This

form of the idea and perception of the artwork

In 1965, Minimalists inspired by geometric

group denied the “art for art’s sake” approach

originating in the artist’s mind, which is later

abstraction, utilized the simplest forms

and methods derived from modernism,

displayed in a proposed structure, and a variety

and masses conceivable in industrial

believing the source of meaning in visual arts

of forms.

compositions, striving to have the greatest

to be language, and therefore featured words

possible effect on a viewer through the

and written explanations in their works.

Hence a conceptual work of art, in view of its

least possible modification in form.

general purpose and the relative aspects of its components, has unalterable qualities;

Joseph Kosuth was member of this group, The art of “Installation”, which had

who used written text on different levels;

appeared early in 20th century,


in “One and Three Chairs”, he combined a real chair, a life-size image of the chair and a dictionary entry of the word-questioning the reality of his subject matter and the

audience of artwork. At times combining the qualities the visual arts, body movements and acting skill; at times affecting violence and

work of art.

revolting behavior towards the human body,

During these years, a number of artists in America

intended to shock, the proponents of this art-form

and Europe left their studios to make use of the vast expanses available in nature, oceans, deserts, farmlands and sites that were in accessible. These works are categorized as “Land Art”, works erected on grand scale that transient quality of this art, symbolizing mutual passion of man and nature, was reminiscent of the legendary memories and myths of human life passed down from ancient history. On the other hand, there were those who found the human body the most


suitable medium for communicating with the

frequently performed by the artist in a manner introduced their concepts. This art has appeared as “Performance Art”, “Happening”

influence on later trends. So great was this effect that while many of these art-forms have possess distinct characteristics and individual names, they are collectively based on the aesthetic viewpoints of Conceptual Art. Few artistic movements are surrounded by so much debate and controversy as conceptual art. For conceptual art has a tendency to pro-

and “Body Art”.

voke intense and perhaps even extreme reac-

Thus “Conceptual Art”, which began as a

people find conceptual art very refreshing and

movement among the many artistic trends of the sixties, conceived to demonstrate precedence of the artist’s envisioned concept over the technique employed for its presentation,

tions in its audiences. After all, whilst some the only kind of art that is relevant to today’s world, many others consider it shocking, distasteful, skill-less, downright bad, or, and most importantly, not art at all. Conceptual art,

was found to encompass far more than its

it seems, is something that we either

contemporary movements and was a major

love or hate.

Chapter 3

Previous Page Up In the Air Below Untitled 1995 11 X 14 X 11 inches

if it does not make us think. Yet most artistic insti-

For although the work created during that time

tutions are not conducive to reflection

might generally be conceived as more directly

and continue to promote a consumerist

anti-establishment and anti-consumerist than

conception of art and artists based on

later conceptual art, the spirit of early concep-

beauty and technical skill and this, conceptual art-

tual art seems to have carried on relatively

ists in the mid-1960s to the early 1970s agreed,

undiluted into the very late twentieth and

must be denounced. The job of

twenty-first centuries, as witnessed by pieces

conceptual artists is instead to encourage

such as Tracey Emin’s Unmade Bed, Damian

a revisionary understanding of art, artist,

Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in

and artistic experience.

the Mind of Someone Living, and The Chapman Brothers’ My Family.

Whilst conceptual art in its purest form might arguably be limited to works produced during

The highly individualised character of the

these five or six years nearly half a century ago, it

intellectual exploration that conceptual art

seems overly narrow – certainly from a philo-

urges us to engage in has always been such

sophical perspective – to limit our inquiry to works

that any attempt to pinpoint a specific common

produced during that period alone.

denominator other than this general vision and approach to art, art-making and society


Tom Friedman