Artist on the Run

Article excerpt

Byline: Blake Gopnik

Tom Friedman was once the art world's golden boy. Can he claw his way back?

Sometimes an artist does a self-portrait that captures a career moment: Rembrandt, bankrupt and exhausted; van Gogh, earless and unnerved. The latest self-portrait by Tom Friedman, glimpsed in his soaring studio in Massachusetts, also gets his status right. It is a life-size carving of Friedman (no relation to the author of The World Is Flat) that captures every crack in his running shoes, the ribbing on his gym socks, the pink flesh on his 46-year-old legs, and then ... nothing. The portrait breaks off halfway up Friedman's calves, as though the rest of him were erased. It gets at how he has come across recently: as a pow-erful artist who seems to have faded from view. That impression may get corrected this month, with Friedman's first New York solo show in seven years, at the well-respected Luhring Augustine gallery.

"Tom's a very good artist, and I look forward to seeing him come back into view," says Robert Storr, now head of Yale's art school but once the curator of Friedman's breakout exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art, in 1995. "But it will take a body of work that will snap people's heads around again."

At Luhring Augustine, Friedman's self-portrait-as-feet will be joined by a bug-size sculpture of the artist flying a kite and an eight-foot-tall statue of him peeing, modeled from crumpled turkey-roasting pans.

A decade ago, Friedman established himself as one of the liveliest figures in American art. There was the flea-size speck of his own feces, on view in a show that toured to the New Museum in New York in 2001. …