I create elegant mutations, radiating with intense color and complexity, in a world that has deconstructed into a goofy ritualistic playground for daily life.
—Dan Friedman, 1994
At the height of consumerist culture and excess in the 1980s and 90s, American designer Dan Friedman (1945–1995) proposed a radical project based on values of inclusion, fantasy, idealism, and the public good.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Dan Friedman began his unconventional career as a graphic designer studying modern typography in Germany and Switzerland, where he mastered the san serif fonts and grids of the International or Swiss Style, and absorbed the increasingly unorthodox approach of his mentors, Armin Hofmann and Wolfgang Weingart. Soon after returning to the United States in 1969, Friedman was hired to teach graphic design at Yale University and took on high-profile design commissions, including iconic branding and logos for Citibank.
Despite these early successes, Friedman became disillusioned with corporate work and moved to New York City in the late 1970s, immersing himself in the alternative galleries and clubs of the East Village alongside artists Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Tseng Kwong Chi. In this unbridled environment, Friedman began to create genre-bending works of assemblage and furniture using found objects, vibrantly painted surfaces, and diverse cultural references that pushed his graphic sensibilities into three-dimensions.
Before his death in 1995, Friedman’s relentless experimentation led to many collaborations with artists, designers, and curators in the United States and Europe. During this time, his work with graphic design and objects took a political and social turn, addressing the AIDS crisis, rapidly evolving technology, environmental pollution, and South African apartheid. In the face of these urgent challenges, Friedman employed discordant juxtapositions—marketing and magic, disaster and play—to make space for radical optimism in a materialistic, media-driven world.
This exhibition is the first museum retrospective focused on Dan Friedman’s extraordinary and underrecognized career. Featuring over 50 works drawn primarily from the Art Institute collection, the presentation showcases Friedman’s unbounded and subversive creativity—a sensibility that resonates with the stylistic and political directions of art and design today.
Dan Friedman: Stay Radical is curated by Alison Fisher, Harold and Margot Schiff Curator, Architecture and Design, with McKenzie Stupica, COSI Research Fellow in Architecture and Design.