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The Temporal Fried

Could it be that there is a double Michael Fried—the atemporal Fried and the temporal Fried?

­­–Robert Smithson, Letter to the Editor, Artforum, October 1967

In early 1995, Michael Fried delivered the Una’s Lectures at the University of California, Berkeley. The Alumni Hall was packed for “Some Thoughts on Caravaggio” and “Caillebotte’s Impressionism,” and the spillover audience carried into the panel discussion with T. J. Clark and Richard Wollheim some days later on March 15. For many of us at the time, the appeal of Fried’s writing and lectures was primarily, as Clark put it, his “remarkable descriptions.”1 And remarkable they were. No one, I think, could ever look at Caravaggio or Gustave Caillebotte the same way after encountering his close reading of them (to say nothing of Chardin, Courbet, Eakins, Manet, or Menzel). But equally, there was a sense of engaged curiosity about Fried’s status as a by-then legendary art critic. Or at least, the possible link between the art historian and the art critic prompted what, for me, has remained the most interesting question posed at the panel discussion. How, Anne Wagner asked from the audience, might we understand the relation between these new accounts of Caravaggio and Caillebotte on the one hand and on the other hand the analysis of Minimalism in “Art and Objecthood”?

In part, Wagner’s question flowed from her work on the introduction to the 1995 edition of Gregory Battcock’s Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology.2 Taking its title from an essay by Wollheim, the book had long offered the most widely available, unexpurgated reprinting of “Art and Objecthood” since its original publication in the June 1967 issue of Artforum.3 The succinct editorial summary of the argument probably did as much as anything to determine the contours of its later reception. “In this essay,” Battcock wrote in 1968,

Michael Fried criticizes Minimal Art—or as he calls it, ‘literalist’ art—for what he describes as its inherent theatricality. At the same time, he argues that the modernist arts, including painting and sculpture, have come increasingly to depend on their very continuance on their ability to defeat theatre. Fried characterizes the theatrical in terms of a particular relation between the beholder as subject and the work as object, a relation that takes place in time, that has duration. Whereas defeating theatre entails defeating or suspending both objecthood and temporality.4

1. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Boy Bitten by a Lizard, ca. 1595. Oil on canvas, 66 x 49.5 cm. National Gallery, London. 2. Gustave Caillebotte, The Yerres, Effect of Rain, 1875. Oil on canvas, 80.3 x 59 cm. Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, Bloomington.
1. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Boy Bitten by a Lizard, ca. 1595. Oil on canvas, 66 x 49.5 cm. National Gallery, London.
2. Gustave Caillebotte, The Yerres, Effect of Rain, 1875. Oil on canvas, 80.3 x 59 cm. Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, Bloomington.

If the essay’s treatment of theater and modernism fell largely to the side in a discussion of Caravaggio and Caillebotte twenty-eight years later, temporality remained quite notably, strikingly, at the center. Two examples stood out. In Boy Bitten by a Lizard, Fried described two moments: both an “extended duration” and “instantaneousness.” (Fig. 1) In The Yerres, Effect of Rain, he remarked in turn upon the picture’s effects of “temporal duration, not instantaneousness.”5 (Fig. 2) Hearing these lectures with “Art and Objecthood” echoing in the background, the connection between Fried’s art criticism and his art historical writing seemed both obvious and compelling. The response to Wagner’s query on March 15 was, however, disarmingly straightforward. There is no real connection between his criticism and art history, Fried replied, they are quite simply separate projects.

I do not believe Fried’s claim was disingenuous. Compelling reasons persist for holding apart his art criticism and art history. Yet, the originality and consistency of his approach to the description and analysis of time in painting and sculpture continues to invite the question. From 1967 to the present, no other writer has so systematically thought through the history and effects of artistic temporality. This accomplishment necessarily binds together his art criticism and his art history, and it allows us to see another layer of significance to the legacy of “Art and Objecthood” fifty years after its publication.

What follows here is a brief elaboration of these basic claims, one that I recognize may be open to criticism and revision. I want simply to point out a few things about the relation of the analysis of temporality in the art criticism of the 1960s and the historical analysis of earlier art, before turning to a modest assessment of the significance of this relation. Broadly speaking, then, Fried’s account of the art of American, French, German, and Italian painters working between the 1590s and the 1880s rests on the consistency of his vocabulary to describe the depiction and effects of time in their work. This vocabulary first emerged in 1967, and it developed into a distinctly new rethinking of a once dominant aesthetic understanding of time in the visual arts. That the vocabulary of temporality ultimately seems to reverse certain value judgments about given works of art superficially suggests a schism between art criticism and art history, but it should also alert us finally to a deeper problematic, one that rests on the disambiguation of interpretation and judgment.

At the time, Fried’s response to Wagner seemed more than a little surprising. 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).

Worth noting is the fact that Fried bracketed the latter half of Smithson’s question; the “atemporal” and the “temporal” fell away, and only the question of doubleness remained. Or rather, Fried rephrased Smithson’s metaphysical satire—“He is a naturalist who attacks natural time […] Consider a subdivided progression of ‘Frieds’ on millions of stages.”9—as a way of addressing Wagner’s question about art criticism and art history. If the questions Wagner and Smithson posed really did converge into one it would be this. Does the temporality of art in “Art and Objecthood” differ from that in Fried’s art historical writing?

The temporal component of the argument in “Art and Objecthood” is obvious and has been understood from the beginning. Smithson and Battcock immediately zeroed in on it for the purposes of criticism and explanation. But the most sustained attention to temporality in Fried’s account of Minimalism appeared many years later in the writings of art historians like Alex Potts, Pamela Lee, and less directly Kenji Kajiya.10 Lee claims that most earlier accounts of the essay had emphasized the spatial and phenomenological elements of the essay, but had failed to acknowledge “the degree to which the limit condition of Fried’s critique is time” (Chronophobia, 43; emphasis in original). But any reading of the essay should confirm its centrality. The key passage comes in the final paragraphs:

Here finally I want to emphasize something that may already have become clear: the experience in question persists in time, and the presentment of endlessness that, I have been claiming, is central to literalist art and theory is essentially a presentment of endless or indefinite duration […] The literalist preoccupation with time—more precisely, with the duration of experience—is, I suggest, paradigmatically theatrical, as though theater confronts the beholder, and thereby isolates him, with the endlessness not just of objecthood but of time; or as though the sense which, at bottom, theater addresses is a sense of temporality of time both passing and to come, simultaneously approaching and receding as if apprehended in an infinite perspective. (“Art and Objecthood,” 166-67; emphasis in original)

In contrast the experience of modernist painting and sculpture “has no duration.” Certainly, one experiences all works of art in time, but the conviction of “presentness” demanded by modernism is “experienced as a kind of instantaneousness.” Indeed, “it is by virtue of their presentness and insantantaneousness that modernist painting and sculpture defeat theater” (167). Duration and instantaneousness are the dyads around which Fried’s critical analysis turned in 1967.

The equation of modernist painting and instantaneousness was not new. Clement Greenberg had articulated a similar view in a widely read article of 1959, “The Case for Abstract Art.” Speaking in general terms about the experience of painting he argued that “ideally the whole of a picture should be taken in at a glance; its unity should be immediately evident, and the supreme quality of a picture, the highest measure of its power to move and control the visual imagination, should reside in its unity. And this is something to be grasped only in an indivisible instant of time.”11 Unlike poems, paintings are “all there at once,” and abstract painting brings this home more forcefully than representational painting. “The ‘at-onceness’ which a picture or a piece of sculpture enforces on you,” Greenberg continued, “is not, however, single or isolated. It can be repeated in a succession of instants, in each one remaining an ‘at-onceness,’ an instant all by itself. For the cultivated eye, the picture repeats its instantaneous unity like a mouth repeating a single word” (81). Greenberg insisted that the transcendence of the temporal—that is, the transcendence of the durational—is an essential characteristic of painting. And that, he added, is what makes abstract painting arguably the most significant form of art in modern culture.12

3. Jules Olitski, Tin Lizzie Green, 1964. Alkyd and oil/wax crayon on canvas. 330.2 x 208.3 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 4. Jan Van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434. Oil on oak, 82.2 x 60 cm. National Gallery, London.
3. Jules Olitski, Tin Lizzie Green, 1964. Alkyd and oil/wax crayon on canvas. 330.2 x 208.3 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
4. Jan Van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434. Oil on oak, 82.2 x 60 cm. National Gallery, London.

Prior to 1967, Fried had most likely assimilated Greenberg’s reading of pictorial temporality. He had certainly addressed the place of time in modern art. Significantly, however, he did not always valorize Greenbergian “pure instantaneity” the way Rosalind Krauss has suggested he did.13 In the catalogue essay for the 1965 exhibition, Three American Painters: Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Frank Stella, Fried pointed out that the combination of colors in Olitski’s recent work demanded not a single moment of perception but a sequential viewing. (Fig. 3) Tin Lizzie Green perhaps does not require experiential duration, but “what matters is that most of Olitski’s paintings executed since 1963 […] virtually demand to be experienced in what may perhaps be called visual time.” Fried immediately compared this with earlier art. (Fig. 4) “Putting aside their obvious differences, what the paintings of Van Eyck and Olitski have in common is a mode of pictorial organization that does not present the beholder with an instantaneously apprehensible unity.”14 Two years later Fried seems to have changed his view of the temporality of Olitski’s paintings. And the shift in analysis is inescapable in the catalogue essay for the exhibition, Jules Olitski: Paintings 1963–1967, which opened at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1967. Writing again about Olitski’s color, he modified entirely—and deliberately, I think—his view of the post-1963 paintings. Using language that would appear only weeks later in “Art and Objecthood,” he declared that “each color competes for presentness with every other.” It is as if each color was “continuously changing from point to point, from present moment to present moment.”15 Olitski could thus stand alongside Kenneth Noland, David Smith, and Anthony Caro in explicit contrast with Minimalist durational temporality.16

Several things are at stake in this shift. One is the possible transformation of the perception or appreciation of temporal effects in works of art, painting in particular. That is, at one moment a painting can be understood primarily as durational, at another moment primarily as instantaneous. Or equally, the recognition of a temporal understanding or an attitude towards time can sometimes be appreciated only under properly dialectical circumstances. To see a painting as if instantaneously is to see the contraindicated possibility of its durational apprehension. This is a point Fried comes eventually to acknowledge, most likely, when confronted with Minimalist works. It is a point that Olitski next to Donald Judd made clear. That perception or recognition is thus arguably tied to the dialectical unfolding of the history of art. And the comparison to Van Eyck all but demands that several centuries of that history be filled in.

One thing about Fried’s development that remains to be understood is the role his art historical research and writing played in the formation or elucidation of this critical position on modernist temporality in 1966 and 1967. He has stated that his relations with Greenberg, both personally and on an intellectual level had “begun to fray” between late 1965 and 1967.17 Whether this meant the Greenbergian temporality also became more (or less) problematic is unclear. At the same time, in the spring of 1966, Fried delivered a course at Harvard on French painting from the 1750s to the 1860s (“Introduction,” 10). Again what is not evident is the impact this exposure to the historical problem of French painting and its theorization by critics like Denis Diderot had on his thinking about pictorial temporality.

Some have argued for a fairly clear connection, at least structurally, between a defense of “presentness” in the 1960s and earlier theories of time in the visual arts. Thierry de Duve, for example, asserts that Fried is “but the last in a long line of aestheticians who, from Lessing to Greenberg through Wölfflin, sought in the instantaneous spatiality of painting the specific essence of plastic art.”18 Fried explicitly disagrees with this assessment, but the evocation of the name Lessing should not surprise anyone familiar with the historical understanding of time in painting and sculpture. Krauss’s 1977 Passages in Modern Sculpture made the relationship clear enough. “Although written in the eighteenth century,” she wrote in the first sentence of the book, “Gotthold Lessing’s aesthetic treatise Laocoön applies directly to the discussion of sculpture in our time.”19 For Lessing, famously, “The rule is this, that succession in time is the province of the poet, co-existence in space that of the artist.”20 For Krauss, however, that distinction falls apart in modern sculpture, the analysis of which forces us “increasingly to speak of time” (Passages, 4). Narrative time and duration in art form the spine of her book. When she finally paraphrases Fried’s “Art and Objecthood,” 200 pages in, the opposition is clear: “With regard to sculpture, the point on which the distinction between itself and theater turns is, for Fried, the concept of time. It is an extended temporality, a merging of the temporal experience of sculpture with real time, that pushes the plastic arts into the modality of theater. While it is through the concepts of ‘presentness and instantaneousness that modernist painting and sculpture defeat theatre’” (203-04). In his prioritization of instantaneousness, Fried was thus deemed a follower of Lessing, at least when it came to artistic time. That he later wrote the foreword to a new edition of Laocoön no doubt confirmed the views of De Duve and Krauss.21 But this is where Fried’s art historical writing about time in the visual arts begins to complicate things.

In Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot, first published in 1980, Fried recognized the centrality of instantaneousness in the age of Lessing. The unity of action demanded by “classical” critics and theorists—Charles Le Brun, Henri Testelin, Roger De Piles—had long entailed a unity of time in history painting. This flowed logically from Aristotelian theories of literature into the visual arts. Instantaneousness, however, was not deemed essential as long as the painter restricted the action of a painting to a single phase of narration.22 For critics in the generation of Diderot, however, the conception of pictorial time became increasingly tied to a demand for instantaneousness. “One might say,” Fried wrote, “that for Diderot and his contemporaries a painter’s failure to declare the singleness and instantaneousness of his chosen moment with sufficient clarity was felt to undermine and often to destroy the dramatic illusion of causal necessity on which the conviction of unity depended. More generally, the demand that pictorial unity be made instantaneously apprehensible found natural expression in the almost universal tendency among anti-Rococo critics and theorists to define the essence of painting in terms of instantaneousness as such” (91). Indeed, one of the significant, if less appreciated, insights of Absorption and Theatricality is how commonplace Lessing’s argument about artistic time was in the eighteenth century (82-92).

5. Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, The House of Cards, ca. 1737. Oil on canvas, 82.2 x 66 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. 6. Claude-Joseph Vernet, Landscape with Waterfall and Figures, 1768. Oil on canvas, 176.2 x 135.2 cm. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.
5. Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, The House of Cards, ca. 1737. Oil on canvas, 82.2 x 66 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
6. Claude-Joseph Vernet, Landscape with Waterfall and Figures, 1768. Oil on canvas, 176.2 x 135.2 cm. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

The works of art that emerge as most significant in Fried’s analysis, however, lay the groundwork for an alternative conception of pictorial temporality. The Diderotian admiration for the works of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and Claude-Joseph Vernet stand out in this regard. (Figs. 5 and 6) In the first instance, the depiction of states of absorption like building a house of cards came to suggest “the actual duration of the absorptive states and activities they represent. Some such power necessarily characterizes all persuasive depictions of absorption, none of which would be persuasive if it did not at least convey the idea that the state or activity in question was sustained for a certain length of time. But Chardin’s genre paintings […] come close to translating literal duration, the actual passage of time as one stands before the canvas, into a purely pictorial effect” (49-50; emphasis in original). In a related manner, Diderot’s imaginative projection into the “pastoral” paintings of Vernet (and Hubert Robert) occasioned an abolition of the “subject’s awareness of the passage of time.”23 In turn, this approach to genre paintings in the critic’s Salon of 1767 could be tied back to the earlier appreciation for Chardin. Both painters managed to deny the presence of the beholder in front of the canvas, though in different ways, and both suggested or demanded an extended temporality of viewing. As Fried puts it, “the beholder is stopped and held, sometimes for hours at a stretch if contemporary testimony is believed, in front of the painting” (132).

Despite the clear difference that emerges between the instantaneousness of history painting and the extended temporality of absorptive and pastoral genres, the word “duration” appears only twice in the main text of Absorption and Theatricality.24 I have just quoted both of them. In one instance, Fried uses the word to describe the action in Chardin’s painting. Immediately after, he uses the same word to describe the effect of the painting on the beholder’s perception of time. The relation of the two is the key element in Fried’s later elaboration of the varieties of pictorial temporality in European and American painting. The terminology of instantaneousness and duration that initially emerges within his interpretation of eighteenth-century criticism and aesthetics carries distinct echoes of that in “Art and Objecthood.” At first glance, the critical valorization of the temporal is simply reversed. For Diderot in 1767, unlike Fried in 1967, duration is a positive effect of certain works of art. But in French painting the durational effect hinges on a work’s ability to depict an analogous time. The representation of duration, by contrast, is simply not something Fried sees happening in Minimalism. He quotes Robert Morris to this effect: “The experience of the work necessarily exists in time.”25 And indeed, the instantaneousness of modernist painting is just the opposite: “It is as though one’s experience of [modernist painting and sculpture] has no duration” (“Art and Objecthood,” 167).

The problem of the relation of effects and representations of time in art, as I have just described it, is not something Fried ever spells out. But his developing and intensifying concern with the representation of temporality and its effects after 1980 is a significant component of his historical account of European and American painting. That said, the vocabulary used to describe pictorial temporality takes form hesitantly. It is notable, for example, that his next book, Realism, Writing, Disfiguration: On Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane, avoided the word “duration” altogether. Nonetheless temporality is a central concern at key points. The book makes a clear case that “an absorptive thematics calls for effects of temporal dilation that in turn serve the ends of pictorial realism by encouraging the viewer to explore the represented scene in an unhurried manner.”26 Duration is simply not the word used in 1987 to describe this effect, although Fried does note the emergence of instantaneousness in Edouard Manet’s painting—a significant insight for his later analysis (43). Indeed, his next three books crystallize what could be called Fried’s theory of pictorial temporality.

7. Gustave Courbet, After Dinner at Ornans, 1848–49. Oil on canvas, 195 × 257 cm. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille. 8. Gustave Courbet, The Stream of the Puits-Noirs, Valley of the Loue, 1855. Oil on canvas, 104 x 137 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
7. Gustave Courbet, After Dinner at Ornans, 1848–49. Oil on canvas, 195 × 257 cm. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille.
8. Gustave Courbet, The Stream of the Puits-Noirs, Valley of the Loue, 1855. Oil on canvas, 104 x 137 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

In Courbet’s Realism, published in 1990, Fried pointed to the artist’s “consistent eschewal of instantaneousness in favor of effects of duration, of slow or repetitive or continuous actions, the very perception of which is felt by the viewer to take place over time.”27 In the After Dinner at Ornans he notes “an almost palpable temporal duration and the limits of which are felt to be coextensive with (or for that matter exceed) those of the painting itself” (92-93). (Fig. 7) He continues: “the impression of protracted and/or repetitive temporality that marks both the After Dinner and the Stonebreakers is characteristic of Courbet’s art throughout his career. In a sense this had always been one of the hallmarks of absorptive painting (we find it in both Chardin and Millet), but in the case of Courbet it will increasingly become plain not only that time is required for his paintings to be made to yield their structures and meanings but also that those structures and meanings in turn imply—they all but enforce—an experience of temporal duration” (108). He points out too, that some paintings, “notably certain landscapes of forest scenes, allow their representational content to be fully made out only gradually, in and through acts of attention, of reading, that need time to achieve their ends. (There may be no slower picture in all Western art than the magnificent Stream of the Black Well, Valley of the Loue (Doubs) in Washington D.C.)” (108). (Fig. 8)

In his 1996 book, Manet’s Modernism; or, The Face of Painting in the 1860s, Fried sums up the basic understanding of pictorial temporality he had developed in the previous two decades. In a two-page “digression on temporality,” he describes two “limit modes of the representation of temporality.”28 Not surprisingly, these two modes are “duration” and “instantaneousness.” Again the latter is aligned with the modernist project—specifically the art of Édouard Manet—but duration is clearly part of the realist tradition. He refers back to his earlier writing when he asserts that “pictorial realism in the West has often involved a tacit or implicit illusion of the passage of time, of sheer duration” (291). This tendency has followed one of two means of representing time in painting: that which is “keyed to the persistence, essentially unchanged over time, of easel paintings as material objects” (291). In the wake of Manet’s new painting, Fried argues, a second pictorial temporality came to dominate: “instantaneousness.” This effect flows from the perception that the surface of a canvas can be “taken in all at once, ‘as a whole,’ in a single immeasurably brief coup d’oeil” (291). Not surprisingly, he compares this to Greenberg’s own conception of “at-onceness” (292). In distinction from Greenberg, however, he insists (in a note) that the term as he uses it is meant “to direct attention to a particular temporal effect, one that in principle is neither superior nor inferior to any other” (568n71).

9. Édouard Manet, Street Singer, ca. 1862. Oil on canvas, 171 x 106 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 10. Édouard Manet, The Execution of Maximilian, 1868–69. Oil on canvas, 252 × 302 cm. Staedtische Kunsthalle, Mannheim.
9. Édouard Manet, Street Singer, ca. 1862. Oil on canvas, 171 x 106 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
10. Édouard Manet, The Execution of Maximilian, 1868–69. Oil on canvas, 252 × 302 cm. Staedtische Kunsthalle, Mannheim.

According to Fried, “the early painting by Manet that most emphatically thematizes instantaneousness understood in this way is the Street Singer” (292). (Fig. 9) His description of the (“often underrated”) painting turns on the woman’s actions “in midstride”: “leaving a café,” “balancing,” “raises,” doors “swinging back,” “as if emerging suddenly into the street”—“the momentariness yet containedness of her actions is a telescoping of time.”29 Likewise, a canvas such as Manet’s The Execution of Maximilian can be said to function within “the framework of a thematics of instantaneousness, keyed to the flame and smoke issuing from the muskets” (356). (Fig. 10) In terms that implicitly contrast the painting with Courbet’s Stream, Fried summarizes the extraordinary temporal self-consciousness of the production: “It’s hard to think of another picture in all Western art that so determinedly draws attention to the inevitably aporetic nature of the fiction of instantaneousness even as it appeals to that fiction for its basic structure” (357).

In a chapter on “Time and the Everyday” in his 2002 book, Menzel’s Realism, Fried introduces a variation on the duration-instantantaneous dialectic developed in his writings on Courbet and Manet. Borrowing from Søren Kierkegaard’s notion of the “everyday”—the patience and faith in marriage specifically—in Either/Or, where Judge William, the fictive narrator, talks about the inability of art, even poetry, to represent everyday time, or inner history—what he calls “extensive” time, as opposed to the “intensive” time of dramatic or historical events—Fried argues that Adolph Menzel is concerned, especially in his drawings, with representing the everyday or “the extensiveness of time.”30 For example, in Dr. Puhlmann’s Bookcase Fried finds “nothing instantantaneous-seeming about the drawing as a whole.” (Fig. 11) Rather, he describes the representation of “time having passed extensively, hour after hour, day after day, over years or decades, ultimately producing, as the provisional or makeshift result of countless ordinary and unmemorable transactions between Puhlmann and his books, pamphlets, and papers, the elaborate construction, at once orderly and disorderly, regulated and improvised, that the drawing faithfully records.” This “lived temporality” serves thus to mark the “inner history” of a man’s life (141; emphasis in original). In a late drawing, Old Documents in a Chest, Menzel “engages with the subject of time in a more explicit manner” (142). (Fig. 12) The picture depicts the old chests owned by the town merchant guilds of Kissingen, a subject the artist found fascinating. In his representation of both the disorder of the chest and the implied actions of “wrapping and tying, stacking and writing” that produced and ordered these objects, Menzel conveys “a lived temporality that belongs at once to an unspecified but somewhat distant past and to a recent occasion when the chest was opened and its contents disturbed” (143). This “mode of temporality” is “basic to Menzel’s art” (144). “Temporal extensiveness” and the “intensive moment” thus emerge as new descriptive dyads, roughly corresponding to the terms “duration” and “instantaneousness” that Fried began using in 1967 (144-45; 147-48). With Kierkegaard’s thought bearing down on the interpretation, however, the sense of moral weight attached to the representation of extension or duration almost entirely reverses the quasi-religious defense of the non-temporal or instantaneous in modernist painting of the 1960s.

11. Adolph Menzel, Dr. Puhlmann’s Bookcase, 1844. Pencil, 26.9 x 21 cm. Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin. 12. Adolph Menzel, Old Documents in a Chest, ca. 1880–90. Pencil, 20.9 x 12.8 cm. Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin.
11. Adolph Menzel, Dr. Puhlmann’s Bookcase, 1844. Pencil, 26.9 x 21 cm. Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin.
12. Adolph Menzel, Old Documents in a Chest, ca. 1880–90. Pencil, 20.9 x 12.8 cm. Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin.

How, then, finally, to make sense of this seeming reversal? Is duration in the art of Menzel (to say nothing of Chardin, Eakins, Courbet, and Caillebotte) to be understood in the same terms as duration in Morris and Judd? There are several ways of responding to this question, a question which more or less repeats those of Robert Smithson and Anne Wagner. The answer Fried has already given is that in one case he was writing as a critic and in the other as an art historian. The analysis of duration in earlier art is not a judgment about the quality of the art. Or, to rephrase the response slightly, an understanding of the representation of time in paintings of the past and its historically-specific effects cannot, in itself, compel our conviction of the visual interest or aesthetic superiority of such works. On close analysis, Fried’s art history has nevertheless acknowledged what Michael Podro has called the discipline’s “two-sidedness”—the sense, that is, that artworks “sustain purposes and interests which are both irreducible to the conditions of their emergence as well as inextricable from them.”31 His descriptive vocabulary again and again makes clear his own valuation of the works of Manet and others, even as he seeks to embed those same works in the critical and artistic problems of their time. What else does it mean to say the Street Singer is “underrated” and that it “thematizes” the historical emergence of pictorial instantaneousness? His own shifting assessment of the relation of his art criticism and art history can thus be said to correspond to a larger problem raised by the conjunction of criticism and history, that of methodological authority.

Fried’s differing accounts of artistic temporality in, say, the 1860s and the 1960s can also be understood as raising the significant distinction between artistic representations and artistic effects. In earlier art—the paintings of Chardin most obviously—questions of artistic temporality are always bound first to the representation of time, and only secondarily to the experience of time. The beholder’s time spent in front of a canvas flows from the representational devices used by the painter. That is the point of absorption: the representation of figures reading, playing, resting, and so forth, sustains an extended viewing of a picture. And the problem of the antitheatrical tradition (at least up through Manet) is a problem of representation. In Menzel, a picture depicts lived time; in Morris, an object only demands that time be lived. The unsettled question is whether modernist painting like that of Olitski (or Jackson Pollock for that matter) can also be understood as problematizing the relation of representations and effects.

In the end, the most compelling answer to the Smithson-Wagner question is historical. There are two Frieds, we might say by way of conclusion, but both are temporal. Just as 1967 is not the same as 1767, so 1967 is not the same as 2017. The point is not simply the banal one that people change, but rather that works of art only make sense within a history of art. The logic and urgency of “Art and Objecthood” is much clearer on the other side of neo-liberalism’s triumphal evacuation of artistic meaning. Fifty years on, we can understand the essay’s claims as historically embedded in a larger crisis in art making and its interpretation. In writing about the past, Fried himself has explicitly sought to understand the prioritization and invention of pictorial modes as unfolding dialectically from generation to generation and in structural distinction from alternate pictorial modes. Chardin’s durational art made sense to Diderot only in relation to a then-dominant pictorial instantaneousness. Manet’s instantaneousness made sense only in relation to Courbet’s durational painting. And so on. The meaning and valuation of both the representation and effects of artistic temporality thus only make sense within a history. In 1967, certain temporal experiences carried moral urgency, not least the transcendence of the crushing literalism of everyday life in postwar America. In 1767 in France, the situation might just have been reversed. So too, perhaps, in 2017. Or, perhaps not. Only time will tell.


1. T. J. Clark, preface, Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution (1973; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 6.
2. See Anne M. Wagner, “Reading Minimal Art,” in Gregory Battcock, ed., Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 3–18.
3. “Art and Objecthood” first appeared in Artforum 5 (June 1967): 12–23, and then in Gregory Battcock, ed., Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1968), 116–47. Fried himself signals the significance of this republication. See Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” in Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 148. All following citations of the essay refer to the 1998 publication.
4. Battcock, Minimal Art, 116. Emphasis and spelling in the original.
5. Michael Fried, “Thoughts on Caravaggio,” Critical Inquiry 24 (Autumn 1996): 22; Fried, “Caillebotte’s Impressionism,” Representations 66 (Spring 1999): 31. The published versions retained the temporal descriptions so forcefully presented in the public lectures. More recent iterations have similarly emphasized them again. See Fried, The Moment of Caravaggio (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 39; and, Fried, “Caillebotte’s Impressionism,” in Another Light: Jacques-Louis David to Thomas Demand (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), 182.
6. Michael Fried, untitled contribution to “Theories of Art after Minimalism and Pop,” in Dia Foundation Discussions in Contemporary Culture No. 1, ed. Hal Foster (Seattle: Bay Press, 1987), 57–58.
7. Michael Fried, “Introduction to My Art Criticism,” Art and Objecthood, 51. Hereafter abbreviated “Introduction.”
8. See Anthony E. Grudin, “Beholder, Beheld, Beholden: Theatricality and Capitalism in Fried,” Oxford Art Journal 39:1 (March 2016): 35­–47.
9. Robert Smithson, “Letter to the Editor” (1967), in Robert Smithson: Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 67.
10. See Alex Potts, The Sculptural Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000); Pamela M. Lee, Chronophobia: On Art and Time in the 1960s (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004); and, Kajiya, Kenji, “Deferred Instantaneity: Clement Greenberg’s Time Problem,” The Japanese Journal of American Studies 16 (2005): 203-18.
11. Clement Greenberg, “The Case for Abstract Art,” The Saturday Evening Post (August 1959), reprinted in The Collected Essays and Criticism, vol. 4: Modernism with a Vengeance, 1957–1969, ed. John O’Brian (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 80.
12. 81. See also Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 55.
13. On Fried, Greenberg, and “pure instantaneity,” see Rosalind Krauss, The Optical Unconscious (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1993), 7.
14. Michael Fried, “Three American Painters: Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Frank Stella,” in Art and Objecthood, 247.
15. Michael Fried, “Jules Olitski,” in Art and Objecthood, 136–37. Emphasis in the original.
16. Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” 167. Frank Stella looms large elsewhere in the essay, but the temporality of his work is not addressed directly.
17. Fried, “Introduction,” 11. On the break with Greenberg, see also James Meyer, “The Writing of Art and Objecthood,” in Refracting Vision: Essays on the Writings of Michael Fried, ed. Jill Beaulieu, Mary Roberts, and Toni Ross (Sydney: Power Publications, 2001), 61­–96.
18. Thierry de Duve, “Performance Here and Now: Minimal Art, a Plea for a New Genre of Theatre,” Open Letter 5–6 (Summer-Fall 1983): 249, as quoted in Fried, “Introduction,” 45.
19. Rosalind E. Krauss, Passages in Modern Sculpture (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1977), 3.
20. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Laocoon: An Essay upon the Limits of Painting and Poetry, trans. Ellen Frothingham (1766; Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1887), 109.
21. See Michael Fried, “Foreword to the Johns Hopkins Edition,” in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Laocoön: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry, trans. Edward Allen McCormick (1766; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), vii–viii.
22. Michael Fried, Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot (1980; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 83.
23. 130. On the temporality of reverie, see also, Jill Beaulieu, “Immanence and Outsidedness: The Absorptive Aesthetics of Diderot’s Existential Reverie and Courbet’s Embodied Merger,” in Refracting Vision, 30.
24. A third use of the word “duration” occurs in a footnote commentary on the relation of Diderot’s criticism to Virgil: “The reference to the Aeneid is a further complication. In an obvious sense, it alludes to another temporal process, that of reading or reciting; but it does so in terms that leave us uncertain whether the outcome of that process—the depiction of the storm—is to be understood as valorizing instantaneousness or duration or indeed some combination of the two” (230 n.58).
25. Robert Morris, “Notes on Sculpture, Part II,” Artforum 5:2 (October 1966): 234, as quoted in Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” 166.
26. Michael Fried, Realism, Writing, Disfiguration: On Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1987), 42–43.
27. Michael Fried, Courbet’s Realism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 179-80.
28. Michael Fried, Manet’s Modernism; or, The Face of Painting in the 1860s (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 290–91. Emphasis in the original.
29. 292. On the Street Singer as underrated, see 568n72.
30. Michael Fried, Menzel’s Realism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 142. For more on Kierkegaard, the pictorial representation of marriage, and the “temporalities of everyday life,” see Bridget Alsdorf, “Hammershøi’s Either/Or,” Critical Inquiry 42:2 (Winter 2016): 268–305.
31. Michael Podro, The Critical Historians of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1982), xviii.