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Michael M. Fried (born April 12, 1939 in New York City) is a modernist art critic and art historian. He studied at Princeton University and Harvard University and was a Rhodes Scholar at Merton College, Oxford. He is currently the J.R. Herbert Boone Professor of Humanities and Art History at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, United States.

Fried's contribution to art historical discourse involved the debate over the origins and development of modernism. Along with Fried, this debate's interlocutors include other theorists and critics such as Clement Greenberg, T. J. Clark, and Rosalind Krauss. Since the early 1960s, he has also been close to philosopher Stanley Cavell.

Early career[edit]

Fried describes his early career in the introduction to Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews (1998), an anthology of his art criticism in the 60s and 70s. Although he majored in English at Princeton it was there that he became interested in writing art criticism. While at Princeton he met the artist Frank Stella and through him Walter Darby Bannard. In 1958, he wrote a letter to Clement Greenberg expressing his admiration for his writing and first met him in the Spring of that year. In September 1958, he moved to Oxford, Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, and then to London in 1961–62, where he studied philosophy part-time at University College, London (UCL), under Stuart Hampshire and Richard Wollheim. In 1961 Hilton Kramer offered him the post of London correspondent for the journal Arts. In the fall of 1961, Fried began his friendship with the sculptor Anthony Caro; Caro had invited him to write the introduction to his Whitechapel Art Gallery exhibition in 1963.

In the late summer of 1962, Fried returned to the U.S, where he combined studying for a Ph.D in art history at Harvard with writing art criticism, initially for Art International, and curating the exhibition Three American painters: Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Frank Stella at Harvard's Fogg Art Museum.

Art and Objecthood[edit]

In his essay, "Art and Objecthood," published in 1967, Fried argued that Minimalism's focus on the viewer's experience, rather than the relational properties of the work of art exemplified by modernism, made the work of art indistinguishable from one's general experience of the world. Minimalism (or "literalism" as Fried called it) offered an experience of "theatricality" or "presence" rather than "presentness" (a condition that required continual renewal). The essay inadvertently opened the door to establishing a theoretical basis for Minimalism as a movement based in a conflicting mode of phenomenological experience than the one offered by Fried.[1]

Absorption and theatricality[edit]

In "Art and Objecthood" Fried criticised the "theatricality" of Minimalist art. He introduced the opposing term "absorption" in his 1980 book, Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot.[2] Drawing on Diderot's criticism,[3] Fried argues that whenever a self-consciousness of viewing exists, absorption is compromised, and theatricality results.[4] As well as applying the distinction to 18th-century painting, Fried employs related categories in his art criticism of post-1945 American painting and sculpture.[4] Fried rejects the effort by some critics to conflate his art-critical and art-historical writing.[5]

Fried revisits some of these concerns in a study of recent photography with Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before (London and New Haven 2008). In a reading of works by prominent art photographers of the last 20 years (Bernd and Hilla Becher, Jeff Wall, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Demand among others) Fried asserts that concerns of anti-theatricality and absorption are central to the turn by recent photographers towards large-scale works "for the wall.".[6]

Selected Bibliography[edit]

In more recent years, Fried has written several long and complex histories of modern art, most famously on Édouard Manet, Gustave Courbet, Adolph Menzel, and painting in the late 18th century.

  • Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980. Awarded 1980 Gottschalk Prize.
  • Realism, Writing, Disfiguration: On Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1987. Awarded 1990 Charles C. Eldredge Prize.
  • Courbet's Realism Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
  • Manet's Modernism Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1996. French translation awarded 2000 Prix Littéraire Etats-Unis.
  • Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
  • Menzel's Realism: Art and Embodiment in Nineteenth-Century Berlin London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.
  • Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.
  • The Moment of Caravaggio Princeton University Press, 2010.
  • Four Outlaws: Sala, Ray, Marioni, Gordon London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.
  • Flaubert's "Gueuloir": On Madame Bovary and Salammbô London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.
  • Another Light: Jacques-Louis David to Thomas Demand London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014.

Fried is also a poet, having written The Next Bend in the Road, Powers, and To the Center of the Earth.


  1. ^ Hal Foster The Crux of Minimalism, From "The Return of the Real: The Avant-garde at the End of the Century" 1996, Mit Press ISBN 0-262-56107-7
  2. ^ Charles Green, The Third Hand: Collaboration in Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism, UNSW Press, p140. ISBN 0-86840-588-4
  3. ^ Toril Moi, Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism: Art, Theater, Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2006, p114. ISBN 0-19-929587-5
  4. ^ a b Tracy C. Davis, Thomas Postlewait, Theatricality, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p20. ISBN 0-521-01207-4
  5. ^ Michael Fried, Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews, University of Chicago Press, 1998, p73. ISBN 0-226-26319-3
  6. ^ Michael Fried: Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before: London and New Haven, 2008, p14. ISBN 978-0-300-13684-5

Further reading[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Fried — Please support Wikipedia.
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Mon, 23 Nov 2015 08:16:22 -0800

"This partnership with Blackstone is a testament to our team's talents and capabilities in reimagining, repositioning, and improving operations of Class B multifamily assets," said PRG CEO Michael Fried, who added the firm will continue to expand the ...


Tue, 24 Nov 2015 08:52:30 -0800

In describing this pivotal phase in Pollock's artistic trajectory, the critic and historian Michael Fried remarked that “[Pollock is] on the verge of an entirely new and different kind of painting . . . of virtually limitless potential.” The black ...

artnet News

artnet News
Tue, 03 Nov 2015 09:35:15 -0800

At Phillips Academy, Stella had the best exposure to recent art that any teenager could have hoped for in the Eisenhower era; at Princeton, he lucked into a three-person clique with fellow painter Darby Bannard and the art historian Michael Fried, who ...

The New Yorker

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Sun, 01 Nov 2015 20:52:30 -0800

The idea—of painting limited to its essential means—was powerfully espoused by the critic Clement Greenberg, and was further refined by Michael Fried, an art historian and critic who was Stella's classmate at Princeton. Fried championed Stella and ...
Colorado Springs Gazette
Wed, 28 Oct 2015 19:42:13 -0700

Cynthia and Michael Fried came to watch "the circus" going on outside in the free speech zone. They are registered Democrats but said they didn't come to protest. The Frieds have lived in Boulder for five years and chose the location in part because of ...


Sun, 01 Nov 2015 21:03:45 -0800

In describing this pivotal phase in Pollock's artistic trajectory, the critic and historian Michael Fried remarked that “[Pollock is] on the verge of an entirely new and different kind of painting…of virtually limitless potential.” The black paintings ...

Brooklyn Rail

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Thu, 05 Nov 2015 09:15:00 -0800

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Sun, 30 Nov 2014 20:52:30 -0800

Michael Fried. A RECENT REVIEW OF SHOWS by Helen Frankenthaler at Gagosian Gallery and Morris Louis at Mnuchin Gallery gave New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl the chance to express his considered views on Color Field painting: Color-field reacted ...

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