From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Michael Fried (born 1939, New York City) is an influential Modernist art critic and art historian. He studied at Princeton University and Harvard University and was a Rhodes Scholar at Merton College, Oxford University. He is currently the J.R. Herbert Boone Professor of Humanities and Art History at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, United States.
Fried's preeminent contribution to art historical discourse involved the debate over the origins and development of modernism. Along with Fried, this debate's interlocutors include other distinguished theorist/critics such as, Clement Greenberg, Kenworth Moffett, T. J. Clark (historian), and Rosalind Krauss. Since the early 1970s, he has also been close to philosopher Stanley Cavell. In his essay, Art and Objecthood, published in 1967, he suggested that Minimalism had betrayed Modernism's exploration of the medium by becoming emphatic about its own materiality as to deny the viewer a proper aesthetic experience. Minimalism (or "literalism" as Fried called it) offered an experience of "theatricality" rather than "presentness"; it left the viewer in his or her ordinary world. Art and Objecthood remains among the most important pieces of art criticism on 20th century American art, and is still ardently debated.
Fried describes his early career in the introduction to Art and Objecthood (1967), 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, and then to London in 1961-2, where he studied philosophy part-time at University College, London 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 inviting him to write the introduction to his Whitechapel Art Gallery exhibition in 1963. In November 1961 Fried was the best man at the London wedding of Frank Stella and Barbara Rose.
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 the Fogg Art Museum.
- 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.
Fried is also a poet, having written The Next Bend in the Road, Powers, and To the Center of the Earth.