Martha Friedman delights at MOCAD
Slices of a pimento (olive) loaf, waffles, eggs, and cow tongue are the ingredients of a promising artist. These items have all fallen on the discerning eye of Brooklyn-based sculptor Martha Friedman. While her work is initially jovial, it has a deeper subtext that challenges and delights the viewer.
Her latest show, Rub, runs through December 30, 2010 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. It consists of several large rubber bands, looped into themselves and stretched to form pillars in the exhibition space. Once you navigate through the pillars, you come upon a large cow tongue. With its tip, the disembodied tongue lifts delicately a black rubber matt hung on the wall.
She explores her personal narrative of everyday objects, everyday perceptions that have a different, sometimes surprising, alternative meaning. For example, she may create a large half eaten waffle to start a dialogue about the viewer’s relationship with the food, the internal digestive process staring them in the face. And while I am not convinced some of her previous work would spark her intended conversation, I am convinced her latest work does.
The rubber bands have a flesh-like quality that resonates with the viewer when they walk through the columns to the tongue. At that moment you ask yourself whether you are viewing a dialogue about someone’s sexuality: the flesh toned rubber bands mirroring internal uncomfortableness around the flicking, inquisitive, misshapen tongue. The tongue is a fascinating object that is both internal and external – it hides only to lash out at the public.
From reviewing images of her previous work, I believe the latest work shows her growth as an artist and is a turning point in her work. Her previous work that involved rubber bands had color rubber bands that I think would only translate as rubber bands. Similarly, her pimento loaf slices I believe only translate into a Claes Oldenburg homage.
But the work in Rub hits it mark surprisingly well. She avoids color to stay true to the form and the imagery of flesh, yet she avoids adding hair or blemishes to the pieces, which would be too overt and insult the viewer. Yet she adds the tongue as a new element to her latest work, which does not hit the viewer on the head with the intended meaning because it is such unique imagery. In particular, the movement developed by having the tongue lift a heavy black tarp is compelling without falling into the dreaded realm of an un-intentionally kitschy special effect costume (i.e. monster tongue with slabs of bodies dangling nearby).