Tom Friedman at Frieze London
‘Cocktail Party' is a new sculpture by renowned American artist Tom Friedman conceived especially for Frieze London 2015. The work features twenty-six life-size figures enjoying a lively party. Described by the artist as a living cartoon, we discover a gathering of curious individuals in a wild array of outfits and hairstyles. The sculpture plays on themes of voyeurism while riffing on pop culture, art history and self-portraiture. The installation follows Friedman's recent major presentations at The Contemporary, Austin, Texas, and Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel.
As we approach this crowd of colourful characters cordoned off by a velvet rope, we take on the role of voyeur rather than participant. We watch and we engage in the vivid animation of each character as they enjoy the party, oblivious to our gaze. Stepping closer, we notice that each gesture is mid-action: an aging waiter is offering canapés, a cigarette is about to be lit, a phone is prepped for a snapshot. A young dreadlocked man is seconds away from a full embrace with his older female counterpart adorned with red lipstick and white gloves. Martinis, champagne glasses and lollipops clink together as shopping bags spill onto the floor. A few figures hold white brochures, a possible clue to their intent. ‘Go love yourself' is painted on a man's t-shirt and it seems to encapsulate the positive vibes emitted from every animated gesture and grin.
Look longer and more is revealed. The clothes were sourced by the artist from a local thrift store, and then each garment hand-painted. The bright outfits match the wildness of the hairstyles: frizzes of wool, spirals of string, dreads of yarn. The group look real at first glance, but their elongated limbs and curious features intensify in their surrealism on closer examination.
Each figure was hand-carved by the artist and they convey an intensely genuine quality, despite their obvious caricature. Built up section by section, Friedman shaped a Styrofoam base, then layered it with clay and paint. The lines of reality and hyperreality are blurred, as so too are the boundaries of the gathering itself.
Shown here at Frieze London, the cocktail party mirrors the art world. Like an inversion of a Pistoletto mirror, we are part of the work but also separate from it. Where a photo should appear on a young boy's iPhone, we instead find a painted mise en scène in the style of Toulouse Lautrec. Here Friedman references a direct link to a lineage of parties depicted through art history - scenes of not just wild revelry but also the inevitable voyeurism.
No work by Friedman would be complete without a hint of self-portraiture. Indeed each character was inspired by someone in the artist's life, and hidden in the tableaux are Easter eggs awaiting discovery by those au fait with Friedman's practice. A snowflake pendant, a spiral hairline, a brooch of toothpicks to name a few. Yet no character is a direct spawn of the artist. We spy one man on the outside, seemingly detached from the others. On his wrist he wears a watch which ticks quietly along with reality. The ‘watcher' could be us, the outside observer living in real time, wondering what they might be missing.