B(ernard) H(arper) Friedman

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Friedman, B(ernard) H(arper)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Friedman, B(ernard) H(arper) 1926–

Friedman is an American novelist and a biographer of Jackson Pollock. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

[Since] Pollock the star and Pollock the artist only relate to one another in a dialectical and often contradictory fashion, it is … unfortunate for B. H. Friedman [that, in] his attempt to write the biography of both Pollocks, victor and victim, he has really written about neither.

He has, however, given us a good workmanlike book [Jackson Pollock] that includes 1) a factual sketch of the shape of Pollock's life, with an emphasis on psychology that at times threatens to treat the paintings as therapeutic tools, 2) a sturdy, middlebrow discussion of the paintings of the sort one might expect from a "general intellectual," and, finally, 3) an altogether interesting account of the world he and Pollock shared—the art world of the Fifties as it existed in New York and East Hampton. It was a genuine Vanity Fair, and Friedman communicates some of the clutter, excitement, and bitchery of that world. But, truly, Friedman is no Thackeray, and even this part of his narrative is marred by his tact. People unfamiliar with that world will probably still find it a little shocking, but those who are familiar with it will find it overly polite.

Reading [Jackson Pollock], I found myself again and again involved in this kind of audience parsing, and it is indicative of a problem that Friedman, as a first biographer, probably couldn't avoid. (p. 80)

Dave Hickey, in Saturday Review (copyright © 1972 by Saturday Review, Inc.; reprinted with permission), September 9, 1972.

B. H. Friedman's "Museum"… is more an essay than a novel, more a discussion of the difficulties of committees and institutions than an exploration of plot, character, theme or technique.

The institution immediately in question, the Museum of Living Art, is owned by the Skane family. Since "the name was a household word" and its great weight always fell "like a ton of bricks—or gold bars," Emerson Skane III worries that his father's desire to help young artists will be forgotten, and so he joins the board of trustees.

But as the museum adjusts to current trends and social and economic changes, Em discovers that constant compromises are required. Although art remains a unique expression of individuals, its dissemination and preservation demand democratic give-and-take….

This might have made effective fiction had Friedman rendered it dramatically, but he has a weakness for indirect discourse, for dialogue that reads like a lecture, for exposition that incessantly repeats the same ideas, and for characters who discuss little except Significant Issues. Must marriage, families, religions, countries and civilizations, Friedman asks ad nauseum, always turn into institutions that betray their ideals?

An important question, of course, but a reader can entertain it only so often, especially given the author's inability to vary it or express it with vitality. [The] book becomes a compendium of clichés…. (p. 26)

Michael Mewshaw, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 13, 1974.

Museum … seems at first to be largely conventional. It traces the adventures of rich, middle-aged Emerson Skane III as he confronts the meaning of his father's legacy. But the hero is less conventional than he appears…. His wealth and his anti-conventionality make his character especially interesting.

B. H. Friedman's knowledge of art (and the art world) is apparent on every page. He is so comfortable with this environment—he is convincing on board meetings, construction plans for museums, art historians—and with his hero that he gives us an insider's novel.

However Friedman moves beyond mere reportage. He constructs his fiction artfully, demonstrating … that life is full of contradictions and duplicities. His style perfectly captures these concerns….

Em (Emerson) is comfortable in the museum because...

(The entire section is 1,412 words.)