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Practices across geographies: Exploring 'Looking Up' at Art Basel Hong Kong

Shasha Tittmann of Lehmann Maupin and sculptor Tom Friedman discuss physical and augmented reality installation Looking Up, showcased at Art Basel Hong Kong 2022.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Jun 23, 2022

Lehmann Maupin is a relatively young gallery founded in 1996 by Rachel Lehmann and David Maupin. The gallery represents a wide and international range of creative practitioners and estates, and has developed a knack for inserting valuable artistic projects in new geographies. One of their latest undertakings has brought sculptor Tom Friedman’s highly regarded piece Looking Up to Art Basel Hong Kong, and to the rest of the world through the magic of AR. By no means does it fall outside their focus, and the towering figure has made its way across oceans, as well as phones everywhere. Discussing this, Shasha Tittmann, Director of Lehmann Maupin, tells STIR, “We have recently launched CollectAR—a partnership between Laura Lehmann and—as a platform to show artworks in augmented reality. We considered the unique scenario of Art Basel Hong Kong this year being a local fair, and we realised it was the perfect opportunity to bring Tom Friedman's Looking Up sculpture physically to the booth, and to audiences around the world in augmented reality.” 

Looking Up #2, 2020, stainless steel, 120 inches, Tom Friedman | Looking Up | Tom Friedman | STIRworld
Looking Up #2, 2020, stainless steel, 120 inches, Tom Friedman Image: Courtesy of Tom Friedman

But the question remains, “Why Hong Kong?” To this, Tittmann responds, saying, "Hong Kong is particularly tech savvy, and an incubation hub for start-ups, cryptocurrency and technology; the city itself is often the source of inspiration for the creative community there. Looking Up was the perfect sculpture to engage with the verticality of Hong Kong's cityscape. The density of skyscrapers is very unique to the city. We thought, how often does the public look up to see the sky on a busy road like Queen's Road? The work opens a new lens to experience the city.” She expands on this in the press release for the piece as she mentions, “The sites of Tom Friedman’s AR activations in Hong Kong—from Times Square in Causeway Bay and Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui to Art Basel Hong Kong in the Convention and Exhibition Centre, Wan Chai, reflect the dynamic spirit of Hong Kong and offer an unparalleled connectivity and resonance with local and global visitors. Transcending their roles as commercial centres, Hong Kong Times Square and Harbour City have long served as significant stomping grounds for art and culture aficionados to experience a plethora of engaging activities while Art Basel Hong Kong has quickly become an annual cultural fixture in the Asia-Pacific region since its launch in 2013. In addition to sitting at the crossroads of economic and cultural activities, the selected locations also capture the juxtaposition of the urban density and the adjacent natural landscape, which would heighten our examination and perception of the spaces within the city when activating Friedman’s Looking Up in the form of AR."

Looking Up model, video, variable dimensions, Video: Courtesy of, which Laura Lehmann partnered with, is a name those interested in augmented reality may be familiar with: they are building a truly universal augmented reality experience, across platforms. Coming to the artist, Friedman is a creative with a practice that fluctuates between the playfully absurd and the highly conceptual. He forces us to re-process the purposes we assign to the mundane: be it objects or, as Looking Up displays, gestures even. Hailing from St. Louis, Missouri, Friedman had a childhood filled with art. Of late, the artist has developed an impressive portfolio of large-scale sculptures and standalone outdoor installations. He tells STIR, “I say I never put the crayons down ever since I was a child. I have always made things." He expresses having always held an intense curiosity about how things work, and that he enjoys exploring himself and the world through the manipulation of materials.

Looking Up #3, 2020, stainless steel, 120 inches, Tom Friedman | Looking Up | Tom Friedman | STIRworld
Looking Up #3, 2020, stainless steel, 120 inches, Tom Friedman Image: Courtesy of Tom Friedman

"When I started making art, that exploration went into questions about the purpose of art and what its potential could be. It led me to think about the art experience. Who is the author, why did they make this, what is it, how was it made, who is the person looking at the art, and so on? I think about my art practice as orchestrating an experience. I make indoor art for galleries and outdoor work primarily for public spaces. My approach to indoor work is more subtle. Usually, people looking at art in galleries or museums intend to look at art, while people who happen to come across an outdoor sculpture tend to see it on their everyday path. So, my outdoor work is more immediate in order to draw the viewer in," Friedman continues to inform us.   

Looking Up #4, 2020, stainless steel, 120 inches, Tom Friedman | Looking Up | Tom Friedman | STIRworld
Looking Up #4, 2020, stainless steel, 120 inches, Tom Friedman Image: Courtesy of Tom Friedman

The first Looking Up piece made by the artist was quite small, at just 33 inches tall. However, even back then, he envisioned that his work could be quite compelling as a very large sculpture one day. He explains, saying, “The piece needed to force the viewer to look up, in order to see and experience its totality. Louis Grachos, who just started working for the Austin Contemporary was interested in this idea. He wanted to restart the Austin Contemporary’s outdoor sculpture park. I thought the 33 inches sculpture should become 33 feet tall." The iteration of the artist’s work in Hong Kong is just over human size at 3 metres tall, which was a carefully made decision: it towers over a person before it, yes, but it does not mean to intimidate: as Friedman explains, “It acts as a segue to the sky. The figure can be looking for something, seeing something, or in a state of wonder.” All of this without feeling domineering. 

Artist portrait, 2021, image, variable dimensions, Tom Friedman| Artist portrait | Tony Luong| STIRworld
Tom Friedman, 2021, image, variable dimensions Image: Tony Luong, Courtesy of Tom Friedman

Friedman is happy for his involvement with Lehmann Maupin, and says, “I started working with them last year and I am currently having my first exhibition with them at their new Seoul space. It’s been really amazing working with them. I connected with Lehmann Maupin through a friend who recommended them very highly, as what could be an excellent gallery for me, and thought my artwork would be well received in Asia." One hopes that there will be many more such offerings from Lehmann Maupin, and that Friedman’s wonderfully simple, and yet wholly profound work will receive even greater acclaim.

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