michael fried on clement greenberg

Clement_greenbergMichael Fried at nonsite:

But, again, my aim in these remarks is not to critique Greenberg’s ideas. Instead I want to seize upon the thought of density or intensity or weight of intuited decision and to associate that thought with a body of work to which, on theoretical grounds, it might seem to have nothing in common—the photographic oeuvre of Robert Adams. Very briefly: Adams was born in New Jersey in 1937; his family subsequently moved to Madison, Wis­consin and a few years later to the suburbs of Denver. Adams got his B.A. from the University of Redlands in California, and went on to do a Ph.D. at the University of Southern California. In 1962 he began teaching English at Colorado College but around that time became interested in taking and making photographs; by 1967 he was doing so seri­­ously, and in 1970 he stopped teaching in order to photo­graph full time. An important photobook, The New West: Landscapes along the Colorado Front Range, appeared in 1974 and a year later his work was shown in the impor­tant exhibition (in retrospect a mile­stone in American photographic history), New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape (1975). Since that time superb photobooks have appeared with some regularity (Denver: A Photographic Survey of the Metropolitan Area [1977]; Los Angeles Spring [1986]; What We Bought: The New World, Scenes from the Denver Metropolitan Area, 1970-74 [1995 and 2009]; and Turning Back: A Photographic Journal of Re-exploration [2005] among them), and of course for a long time now Adams has been widely recognized as one of the most distinguished photographers at work anywhere. My personal familiarity with his art is quite recent, dating as it does from the major retro­spective exhibition, a selection of nearly 300 works, organized by Joshua Chuang for the Yale University Art Gallery, which opened in Vancouver in the fall of 2010 and over the next few years traveled to a number of venues in this country and Europe.8 (I saw it in New Haven in the fall of 2012 after having caught it some months before at LACMA. Let me also say that I had the privilege of going through the exhibition at LACMA with Jim Welling and at Yale with Josh Chuang; I’m grateful to them both for count­less insights.) Simply put, I was swept away by what I saw. Naturally I had admired individual photographs and even small shows of Adams’s work in the past. But Josh Chuang’s exhibition established Adams’s sta­ture as a major artist beyond the possibility of dispute, by virtue both of the taste, intel­ligence, and amplitude of the selection and, in both museums but espe­cially in New Haven, the effectiveness of the installation.

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