He may be the best-loved arts advocate you've never heard of.
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Madison Square Park Conservancy raised $1 million at their benefit to support the park's public art program at the Prince George Ballroom. The event honored Friedman, a consultant for their public art projects. The proceeds will go to the newly established Martin Friedman Fund, which will create permanent support for Mad. Sq. Art and help set up the Martin Friedman Curator position.
There were about 300 artists, curators, patrons and gallerists in attendance, many of them famous artists whom Friedman had worked with over the years, including Claes Oldenburg, Frank Stella, Christo, Cindy Sherman, David Hockney, John Baldessari, Lynda Benglis, Lawrence Weiner, Martin Puryear and Mark di Suvero.
Friedman helped establish Madison Square Park's public art program after his 1990 retirement from the Walker after 28 years. His work at the Walker has earned him the name of "father of the modern sculpture park."
Over dinner, guests were regaled with stories of Friedman's tenacity. "Martin Friedman is a control freak," Whitney Museum director Adam Weinberg said.
Attendees were also surprised by a special performance from minimalist musician Philip Glass. Friedman was one of the first museum directors to invite performing artists, including Glass, to an art institution, in a practice that was very uncommon in the 1960s.
"No one has been a greater champion of the art of our time," Glass said.
Friedman said that his favorite moment of working with the conservancy was the program's biggest controversy: the installation of "Event Horizon," Anthony Gormley's figures on rooftops that some speculated would be mistaken for suicide jumpers. "The article about it described us as boneheads," Friedman told ArtInfo gleefully.
Artist Ursula von Rydingsvard, who is teaching art this week in a New York City public school, made small mushroom-shaped wooden sculptures for the occasion that were set next to ever plate. "I had to make 320, and then 10 extras," she told ArtInfo. "But I'd do anything for Martin."
"He's a very unusual museum director," artist Chuck Close, one of the evening's hosts, told ArtInfo. "Not only did he train other museum directors, but he also had a very special relationship to artists. These people wouldn't show up for anybody else, I'll tell you that."