Whatever happened to nuance in artmaking, shades of meaning, images given to multiple interpretations? Too old-timey? This is my complaint about the new stainless-steel sculpture by Tom Friedman standing in front of Rockefeller Center, in situ until March 19.

By way of explanation

Not only is Friedman’s shiny steelwork a glittering generality in my opinion, but it also comes with a clarifying title – you know, in case you miss the point the sculpture is making. I’m talking about the 10-foot-tall semblance of a human (a news release calls it “quasi-human”) looking up titled “Looking Up.”

When words don't matter


There’s nothing for you to do. No thinking necessary. Friedman lays it all out for you – not only in the picture but in words. Goodbye metaphor, hello, mindlessness. What you see is all there is. But wait, there’s yet more explanation from this artist.

Dictating art appreciation

MSN quotes him saying that the figure is meant “to look beyond oneself and to engage in wonder, discovery, awe, and also positivity.” So you say, Tom. But, couldn’t a head raised to the sky also signify someone nonplussed, thrown, and asking the heavens what the hell is going on?

When less is more isn't

By the way, if 'Looking Up' looks familiar, you probably remember the 33-foot-tall version five years earlier temporarily erected on Park Avenue and 53rd Street.

Apparently, you can’t have too many of these “positivity: statues." Certainly, the art gallery representing Friedman thinks so.

Touting Tom's creation

A statement on the Stephen Friedman Gallery website touts 'Looking Up' and how the “sparkling sculpture” has a style the artist is known for - “playful and exacting.” The title of the work is certainly exacting, but “playful”?

If you mean frolicsome – Nah.

Familiar objects made unfamiliar

The gallery goes on to say that Friedman embraces everyday life by “looking afresh at familiar objects and their assigned function.” I take that to mean what the sculpture is made of - namely crushed aluminum foil pans. But unless visitors to Rockefeller Center read the gallery’s online statement, they’re liable to miss how Friedman looks “afresh at familiar objects.”

Looking up isn't Twilight Zone

Art Daily hails Looking up as a “magnificent piece” and a “perfect example of Friedman’s interest in the supernatural.” Does anyone see anything metaphysical or transcendent in a figure looking up at Rockefeller Center?

The art of not making art

Writer and critic Dennis Cooper interviewed Friedman to find out the thinking behind his work. The first gleaning is that the way he thinks about making art is dropping the notion of making art and focusing on the process. By way of explanation, he told his friend, John Waters, “I try to establish a logical connection between what a material is, how it is transformed and what it becomes.”

Isn’t this a little like saying that when Monet was painting his waterlilies, he quit focusing on his garden and concentrated on the materials in his paintbox?