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Dan Friedman’s Radical Modernism

Humor and a life fully lived on display at MIAD

Nov. 15, 2016
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The exhibition starts, or ends, depending on your entrance, with a series of pithy advice from graphic designer Dan Friedman. Statements like “life and work with passion and responsibility; have a sense of humor and fantasy” and “embrace the richness of all cultures; be inclusive instead of exclusive” are timeless whether or not you are an artist. For Friedman, these ideas were part of living fully and with purpose. He died in 1995 of AIDS and his works on view at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design testify to his philosophy.

Friedman, born in 1945, studied in America, Germany, and Switzerland before making his name in post-modern design and typography. Examples of his print work are on view, along with books such as a tome about his friend, artist Keith Haring. His use of fonts, and compositions with changing text sizes and unusual placements, give words on a page a dynamic that moves beyond their function as information. It is also striking how he uses these principles in three-dimensional sculpture and furniture.

The Truth chair has a boxy black seat on thick front legs, with a solid slab of a back in velvety natural wood. The word TRUTH is emblazoned on it and a silver orb sits at its top. It is a comfy seat, but a whimsical entreaty for casual confessions. The inclusion of his cheeky furniture, such as a table in the shape of the United States, have a sense of humor combined with the bright aesthetic palette of the 1980s, the era to which many pieces date. There are photographs of wall sculptures but the inclusion of the real pieces illuminates how their presence is more powerful than a picture. 

One can only imagine the real feeling of being in his New York apartment at 2 Fifth Avenue, which is illustrated by photographs and a video tour. For more than 10 years, his living space was modified and decorated with the sort of Day-Glo exuberance seen in his work. This retrospective describes a man for whom art and life were truly entwined.

“Dan Friedman: Radical Modernist” will be displayed through Dec. 3 in the Frederick Layton Gallery at MIAD, 273 E. Erie St. 

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