Could it be that there is a double Michael Fried?

263193Marnin Young at nonsite:

In a contribution to a 1987 panel at the Dia Art Foundation, Fried himself had stated that “the antitheatrical arguments of ‘Art and Objecthood’ belong to a larger historical field than that of abstraction versus minimalist art in 1967. […] Indeed, part of the interest ‘Art and Objecthood’ still has for me is that more than any of my early essays it represents a link between the art criticism I had been writing since the early 1960s and the art history I would soon go on to write.”6 Less than a decade later, however, he had substantially changed his tune. He stated his new position in the introduction to his collected art criticism, Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews: “between myself as historian of the French antitheatrical tradition and the critic who wrote ‘Art and Objecthood’ there looms an unbridgeable gap.”7

Certain elements of art criticism and art history, Fried insisted, had to be understood as separate. One is the notionally distinct roles inhabited by the critic and the historian. Whether this amounts to the “resolutely nonjudgmental” position of the art historian could be debated, but Fried insisted that an interpretation of the art of the past requires a certain historicizing of aesthetic judgment as such (“Introduction,” 51). (The flipside is the impossibility of historicizing one’s own critical judgments.) Fried also emphasized the distinction between the antitheatrical tradition of French art of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the attempts to defeat theater in the modernist painting and sculpture of the postwar period. The two situations are perhaps, as Anthony Grudin has argued, parallel responses to capitalism, but for Fried they remain non-continuous and quasi-autonomous.8 In these respects, the art historical and critical approaches to art are non-identical twins. Is there a “double Michael Fried?” he asked, quoting Robert Smithson. “Whatever the right answer was in 1967, the answer now is yes” (“Introduction,” 52).

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