Michael Fried, minimalism, Jeff Wall and Wittgenstein

Wittgenstein’s writings were influential on Michael Fried’s art criticism in the 1960s. An important element of Fried’s criticism was his modification of Clement Greenberg’s theory of modernist painting. In the first part of this paper I will address some aspects of this criticism. I will then present some important aspects of Fried’s critique of the minimalists and their art practice. Fried’s essay “Art and Objecthood” (1967) is important in that respect. In his essay Fried asserts, among other things, that minimalist art exercises a theatrical effect on the beholder, and that this new form of art should be described as a form of theatre that incorporates the beholder in the artwork. Interestingly, the minimalists were also influenced by Wittgenstein’s thinking. Minimalist art appeared as a critique of the high modernist conception of art. I will pay attention to this critique in my paper. Finally, I will discuss a more recent example of the way Wittgenstein’s thinking informs debate about art and aesthetic practice. I will discuss Fried’s way of understanding the photographic practice of the Canadian artist Jeff Wall, using an excerpt from Wittgenstein’s Culture and Value, which appears in his new book Why Photography Matter as Art as Never Before (2008).

Keywords: Michael Fried, minimalism, modernism, Jeff Wall, Wittgenstein