I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Tom Friedman about his 33-foot tall metal sculpture, Looking Up, on view on Park Avenue between 53rd and 54th Streets through September 5. Freidman’s figure is a gentle giant with cartoonish features that end in an upturned head. Wrinkled and lumpy, the sculpture stands in contrast to the sleek glass and steel of the Seagram Building and Lever House. They frame Friedman’s figure, directing our gaze.
Much of Tom’s work is a study of opposites. For example, Looking Up was inspired by an earlier work, Untitled (Peeing Figure) (2012), a contemplative, albeit humorous sculpture of an inwardly focused figure. “If I’m working small, I’ll start thinking about working large,” he told me. “If I’m working geometrically, I’ll think about working organically. Untitled faces down, while the figure in Looking Up looks skyward. Creating relationships between opposites creates dynamism.”
Tom also spoke about the influence of 9/11 and how he wanted to create a contrasting experience, one that would reestablish a sense of wonder. “I was thinking about 9/11 and reclaiming the sky. People in New York don’t often look up. I wanted the sculpture to be a segue between people and the sky.” When standing at the base of Looking Up, we can’t help but experience the magic.
Looking Up is made of polished stainless steel, cast from crushed oven roaster pans and aluminum foil. “In 2007 I created a show for the Lever House called Aluminum Foil. I liked all that reflectivity in the glass-walled exhibition space, so when I knew that Looking Up would be installed outside, one block from the Lever House, I wanted to return to this material, with the addition of oven roaster tins. I liked their crushability and angularity.” The highly wrinkled surface reflects light from the surrounding buildings and traffic lights, so the color constantly changes. While the work appears simply made, the actual process is labor intensive – another juxtaposition. Friedman’s skill lies in making the complex seem straightforward, resulting in works that are both sophisticated and accessible.