Play-Doh, spaghetti and aluminum foil — sculptor Tom Friedman transforms mundane consumer products into playful yet meticulously crafted artworks of almost obsessive intricacy.
This fall, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum will inaugurate its new College of Art Gallery with Pure Invention, an exhibition of work by the renowned WUSTL alumnus.
Drawn largely from St. Louis-area collections, Pure Invention is curated by Michael Byron, professor of painting in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. It features more than 20 works surveying the last decade of Friedman’s career, from early drawings and multimedia constructions to recent large-scale prints, sculptures and installations.
Though influenced by minimal and conceptual art, Friedman’s work is characterized by its keen attention to process and use of modest, ephemeral-seeming materials. For example, the inkjet print Untitled [Dots and Arrows] (1997) diagrams the potential visual complexities of a simple word-association game. Untitled [Styrofoam Balls on Wall] (2000) collects hundreds of small, brightly colored spheres that suggest atomic particles or astrophysics.
Friedman also displays a sly, almost scientific interest in systems of representation. Untitled [Paper Fly] (2003) is a trompe l’oeil drawing of the common household pest, while Untitled [Fly on Wall] (also 2003) is a similarly composed sculpture crafted from plastic, hair, fuzz, Play-Doh, wire and paint.
Another recurring theme is Friedman’s quirky, self-effacing brand of self-portraiture. Vanishing Point [Clothes Removal] — a large photogravure created earlier this year in collaboration with Island Press, the Sam Fox School’s professional print shop — depicts the artist’s scattered garments trailing into the distance of a pristine, white studio-like space.
The exhibition also includes several seldom-seen pieces that stand out as anomalies within Friedman’s oeuvre. The pastel drawing Untitled [Monster Drawing] (1995) was created as part of a workshop the artist taught for teenagers. Untitled [Foil Guitarist] (2004) — exhibited here for the first time — is a rare figurative sculpture as well as a witty visual pun on “heavy metal.”
Born in St. Louis in 1965, Friedman earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic illustration from WUSTL in 1988 and a master’s degree in sculpture from the University of Illinois, Chicago, in 1990. His work has been featured in solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago, among many others.
In 2000, a career retrospective — organized by the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem, N.C. — traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts, San Francisco; and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, among other venues.
In 2001, Phaidon Press released a monograph dedicated to his work. The College of Art Gallery is one of two display spaces dedicated to temporary exhibitions within the Kemper art museum. Proposals can be submitted by faculty and students in the Sam Fox School and are administered by museum staff.
Pure Invention is one of three inaugural exhibitions — along with an installation of the permanent collection — at Kemper art museum. All exhibitions are free and open to the public and remain on view through Dec. 31. Hours are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays; and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The museum is closed Tuesdays.
For more information, call 935-4523 or go online to kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu.