Next to Nothing: The Art of Tom Friedman

By Hainley, Bruce | Artforum International, November 1995 | Go to article overview

Next to Nothing: The Art of Tom Friedman


Hainley, Bruce, Artforum International


Jane Bowles once wrote to her husband, her dearest Bupple, "I keep forgetting what writing is supposed to be anyway." She had already published a novel, Two Serious Ladies, which she decided "was after all not a novel." She forgot what a novel was and forgot marriage for mariage blanc. Later on, forgetting the grammar of present and future, she would sign a copy of her collected works as "Dead Jane Bowles." What did she learn from forgetting it all - did it burn or was it soothing as a final balm? Understand that she was not praising ignorance, that this is not in praise of ignorance, although it is in praise of something like learning to be ignorant. Or forgetting to remember.

Tom Friedman forgets what art is supposed to be anyway. Spaghetti, bubble gum, toothpaste, pubic hair, soap, aspirin, shit, masking tape. Maybe he doesn't think what he does is art at all and everyone is mistaken in calling it that. Perhaps it is more interesting than art. Perhaps art gives him a headache. He forgets what it is by not remembering what spaghetti, bubble gum, toothpaste, pubic hair, soap, aspirin, shit, and masking tape are supposed to be anyway and leaving them just that. Everything is almost like nothing. The delicate durum mess of Loop, 1993-95, is a single box of pasta, each noodle joined end-to-end; the sweet pink pustule wedged in the corner, Untitled, 1990, could be an egg sac or a boil but is bubble gum smoothed into a sphere; the calm natatorial geometry of Untitled, 1989, becomes heady when you smell its waves of minty blue; the spiral on an alabaster surface recalling Rrose Selavy's whirligig rotatives (Rrose herself existing only as a signature or reproduction of someone who never was) is pubic hair on a piece of soap. The clean recalls the dirty and the cure recalls the pain; remembering something out of the blue is bittersweet because you suddenly remember forgetting - entire tropicalities, whole slow bodies, tender abrasions. Friedman has carved his head, a tiny self-portrait, out of an aspirin, alleviating the throb of self while depicting it. He accomplishes an exacting, formal elegance despite his sculptures, not being far from what they both once were and never were. In Untitled, 1993-94, Friedman's body floats faceup against the ceiling like an ambiguous cloud of desire, a photographic suspension between hoax and miracle, which, if I have not forgotten, is where art or life is. …

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