Tom Friedman

Rezac Gallery

Laundry detergent, toilet paper, toothpaste, and erasers are all materials dedicated to removing dirt or error that have been manufactured to disappear once their work is finished. But Tom Friedman makes abstract formalist sculptures that emphasize their particular material qualities—their aqua-freshness, and their squeezability. Dry detergent was miraculously splayed in a blue galactic swirl on the floor; diluted green toothpaste was painted onto the wall like an expanse of David Hockney water; and an indeterminate length of toilet paper was perfectly rerolled and displayed on a pedestal without its cardboard tube. In each case Friedman removed the material’s structure—its backbone—and ordered the indeterminate remains through the structuring rhetoric of art.

Somehow Friedman’s cosmic forms invoke the imaginary, futuristic worlds that advertising frequently conjures. Friedman’s repertoire of materials does riot stop with cleaning products, however. Indeed, his material choices refer less to advertising than to agency: all these products are geared for a use that Friedman ignores, employing them instead towards the useless end of art.

Two-by-fours and typing paper are humble substrates, waiting to surrender to a creative act. Instead of building with a two-by-four that appears in one work, Friedman painted it with thick acrylic, mimicking the wood-grain beneath; instead of using typing paper to write a sonnet, he systematically poked it with a pin (and pinned it to the wall), so that it no longer acts like paper but curls away from the wall like plaster-soaked surgical gauze. Bubble gum can be rationalized in this company as it, too, is a go-between—chewed but not swallowed, emptied of flavor and then spit out. A solid, smooth-surfaced, five-inch sphere of gum has been stuck in a corner at face height. As an intractable bulge, it counters the almost invisible bubble of saliva ballooning from a mouth in a blurry photograph across the room.

When his process is most obsessive, the work is amazing. Two sheets of paper pinned next to each other on the wall have been crumpled in exactly the same pattern of wrinkles. Such an extravagant expenditure of effort is impressive, but to what end is this dedication directed? The toothpaste wash is more than a mouth could accommodate, but the piece is not about drowning or choking, it is about painting, just as the glowing red circle of eraser shavings is a direct play on Wolfgang Laib’s transcendental pollen sculpture. The show as a whole could be seen as an investigation of formalist concerns—mass, volume, surface, shape—including a comprehensive vocabulary of geometric forms, and a thorough range of sculptural orientations—to the ceiling, the wall, the floor, the pedestal. Whatever ulterior motives might be implied by Friedman’s sensational materials and obsessive processes, they are kept in check by the rules of art. These are magic acts executed in the still air of the gallery, with a magician’s skill at making something from nothing and inspiring at least a passing gasp.

Laurie Palmer