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Dan Friedman

Dan Friedman

Josef Astor. Portrait of Dan Friedman, about 1990. Courtesy of Ken Friedman.

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Dan Friedman was a prolific graphic and furniture designer, artist, writer, and educator whose work posed a radical challenge to convention and commodification in design practice. From his early training in modernist graphic design, Friedman’s typographic experiments, high-profile collaborations with artists and gallerists, social activism, and genre-bending works of assemblage established his career as one of the most dynamic and transgressive in the history of American design.

After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in 1967, Friedman moved to Europe to seek out the progressive influence of graphic designers and educators Armin Hoffman and Wolfgang Weingart in Germany and Switzerland. There Friedman developed a fluency in the rigorous and spare compositions of Swiss or International Style typography that guided much of his early commercial work, including branding and logos for large corporate clients like Citibank in the mid-1970s. During this same period, however, Friedman began to subvert these principles with an approach to color, font, and layout that aligned his work with the nonconformist ideals of “New Wave” or punk typography.

By the early 1980s, Friedman had largely pulled away from his identification as a corporate graphic designer for a practice grounded in urban experience and experimentation. Finding inspiration in clubs and galleries in New York City, Friedman developed friendships and generative collaborations with many figures in the downtown arts scene including artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, gallerist Jeffrey Deitch, and fashion designer Willi Smith.

Many of his New York productions were born in the laboratory of his own living space, as he transformed a nondescript apartment into what a contemporary critic called a “goofy ritualistic playground” with found objects, riotously colored assemblage pieces like Tornado Fetish (1985), and his provocative, postmodern furniture designs. Graphic design reemerged in Friedman’s work in the mid-1980s as a vehicle for his growing involvement in social concerns, including the Art Against AIDS campaign. Both political and intensely personal, Friedman’s activism was grounded in the struggles of his own artistic community and as well as a lifelong belief in public life and the necessity of “being radical.”

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