The moment you walk into the Yale School of Art’s new exhibit, “Dan Friedman: Radical Modernism,” you learn that art is not confined to dim museums and serious, thousand-page textbooks.
“Live and work with passion and responsibility; have a sense of humor and fantasy,” a quote that greets the gallery goer, sets the tone for the dynamic exhibit of more than 90 works from Friedman’s career.
Amid overwhelmingly vivid yellow, pink and orange gallery walls, the retrospective at the Green Hall Gallery commemorating the celebrated artist and graphic designer exudes energy and intensity.
A Yale professor from 1970-1973 and 1991-1992, Friedman was renowned for his graphic design work, many models of which are on display in the exhibit. Viewers will instantly recognize the many examples of the logo he created for his client Citibank. His system for playing with text and fragmenting sentences into patterns and, ultimately, works of art is clearly mapped out, showing how he used an arrangement of grids for organizing his ideas.
Sheila de Bretteville and Christopher Pullman, who worked with Friedman in the School of Art, planned the retrospective, which includes a smaller collection in the Jonathan Edwards Master’s House. The commemoration includes various talks and discussions about the artist and contemporary applications of his work and ideas.
Other works in the collection include sculpture, mixed media and photography. Friedman was not afraid to experiment with different subjects and media; some photographs are characterized by simple, geometrical, three-dimensional subjects, while others incorporate superimposed text in a style more reflective of the pop art movement.
Some of the pieces hail from Friedman’s own apartment in New York, including a short film tour of the space shown on the lower level of the gallery. “My home is a celebration of progress, optimism and fantasy,” said Friedman in his film, a statement that is corroborated by the full-scale color images of the apartment that fill an entire room. The blinding colors, highlighted by pink florescent backlighting, are staggering.
John Arabolos, a visitor to the exhibit and professor of visual arts at the University of New Haven, noted the striking use of light and color, but had reservations, calling it “superficial, excessive and a little garish.”
The professor was hesitant with regard to the post-modern pop iconography that Friedman employed in his graphic design and photographic work.
“When art gets to be a socio-political statement, we start losing what art is really about,” Arabolos said.
But Arabolos admitted that this iconography, combined with the tremendous variation in artistic medium and style, reflects a lack of identity that characterizes modern society.
Friedman himself was unsure about the future of society, worrying that the influence of digital technology would undermine the human elements present in graphic design. This is certainly not a problem with Friedman’s work; his vibrant personality leaps out at the viewer, almost so much so that we are taken aback. Perhaps this modernism is too “radical” for some, but there is no chance that this work will lose the vitality that Friedman sought to achieve.