0074 Traces of the Unrepresentable in the Modernist Discourse of Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried

  • Nissim Gal (Author)
    University of Haifa, Department of Art History

    Nissim Gal is Lecturer on modern and contemporary art at the Department of Art History, University of Haifa, Israel. His PhD dissertation, The Fictitious Unity of the Subject: Investigating the Question of the Subject in American Art after World War II, was approved with distinction. He is the author of Ilana Salama Ortar: La plage tranquille (Montpellier 2007) and of The Portrait of the Artist as a Facial Design (Tel Aviv 2010). His articles have been published in various academic specialized journals. He is the co-editor of The Beauty of Japheth in the Tents of Shem: Studies in Honour of Mordechai Omer (Tel-Aviv 2010, with Hana Taragan) and currently editing Observing the Work of Dorothy Robbins (forthcoming, Haifa 2011).

Identifiers (Article)


The present essay aims to remap the modernist writing of Clement Greenberg and his successor Michael Fried from the late 1930s to the 1960s. For many years these two critics/theorists were considered leaders of the American modernist camp that promoted the purity of the medium and the total dependence of reading art on the primacy of perception. Attentive reading of the canonical texts they authored will surprisingly reveal that between the theoretical lines of their writings dwells an essential element that contradicts the absolute dominance of eyesight. Lying at the heart of the Greenbergian act is a metaphysical foundation that poses the question of the invisible as part of the inquiry into the "essence of the visible". As such the modernist debate will be revealed not only as a means for assembling a canon of works, but also as a means to formulating an experience of revelation in terms of the visual. Attentive reading of the writings of Clement Greenberg and the early Michael Fried, reveals a theoretical element or regulative idea that will be termed here "the unrepresentable".


Clement Greenberg, Michael Fried, Modernism, The visible, The unrepresentable