LAM museum acquires Tom Friedman’s self-portrait in sugar cubes

Art Daily
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Tom Friedman, Untitled (Self-Portrait), 1999. Sugar cubes and sugar, 121.9 x 43.2 x 25.4cm. Collection LAM museum.

LISSE.-The LAM has purchased an important sculpture by American artist Tom Friedman (1965): a self-portrait comprising thousands of sugar cubes. “We’ve been drooling over this sculpture for many years. It’s a distinctive work by one of today’s most esteemed American artists and a perfect fit for the LAM’s collection,” explains museum director Sietske van Zanten. For now, the work can be viewed online. “It will eventually be given a place of honour in the museum,” says Van Zanten.

There stands the artist, both lifelike and surreal, in a relaxed pose, hands in pockets and looking nonchalantly to one side. Sugar-white, with a jagged outline from the cubes, it’s as if he’s somehow blurred on tv. There are small piles of sugar on the plinth. Made of sugar describes the fragility of this artwork perfectly.

The American Tom Friedman often uses commonplace materials. Whether it’s polystyrene, cardboard, his own hair, soap or chewing gum, nothing is too ordinary. He is regularly compared to Piero Manzoni, who shook the foundations of the art world in the ’50s and ’60s by selling tins of poo.

However, there’s a clear difference. Where Manzoni’s work was about making a statement, Friedman wants to get closer to the observer: “Using everyday materials is a way of connecting with people. Not a lot of people may have had an experience with traditional art materials, but these familiar materials have meaning for them.”

Seeing things differently
Friedman also gets people to look differently at the ordinary products in their homes. Van Zanten says, “After you’ve seen his sugar portrait, you look at the sugar in your tea in a new way. And that’s exactly what the LAM wants to encourage. We’re always stimulating visitors to look at everyday things with fresh eyes. With our online Home Museum and the daily art snacks we are providing during this period of self-isolation, we’re doing precisely this. If you look at things differently and use your imagination, there is always something to marvel at. We need art and imagination more than ever now that our physical world is limited.”

And there is another similarity. In the same way that the LAM has no text panels alongside the artworks, Friedman does not use titles. “Just like we do in the museum, Friedman gives you the freedom to make your own associations,” says Van Zanten.

Tom Friedman finds his subjects close at hand. Aside from the self-portrait in sugar, he previously carved his likeness in an aspirin tablet. He makes the ordinary extraordinary. In Beverly Gardens Park in Los Angeles, for example, there is his sculpture of a man running with a tower of takeaways on his head. A reference to our busy, digital lives: always in a hurry, always in danger of losing the balance.

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