9 December 2005 – 14 January 2006
White Cube presented Richard Phillips’ project Michael Fried, a group of seven large-scale oil paintings.
Over the last decade, Phillips has developed a striking signature style that derives its tension from a selective use of lurid popular images that he subjects to the technical, value-laden refinements of academic painting. As a self-conscious American painter weaned on postmodern appropriation strategies, Phillips is acutely interested in the continuing discourse on 'the sacred cloth' and how his own work situates itself within, and contributes to, its canonical status. To this end he designed an octagonal, chapel-like enclosure for this particular group of paintings and titled it, provocatively, Michael Fried.
One of modern art’s eminent historians and critics, Fried famously took Minimal Art to task on account of its irredeemable theatricality in Art and Objecthood (1967), then later explored the dialectical relationship between theatricality and non-theatricality in painting in the writings of Denis Diderot and the painting salons of eighteenth century Paris in Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot (1980). Fried remains a leading, though contested, exponent of the vexed relationship between art criticism and art history.
The critic suggests new possible ways to understand a work of art but for Phillips, critique is as much an intrinsic material in the conception and staging of his own paintings as the paint and canvas with which they are made. In this exhibition, in a reversal of the normative relationship between artist and critic, Fried is cited as the very subject of Phillips’ attention.
Visitors to Michael Fried encountered a panoptical space, where an image confronts the viewer from every wall. Culling his subjects from fifties soft porn and other genres in the lower reaches of the subject hierarchy, Phillips crops the body from each figure, scales up the faces via gridding technique, and resets them against bold, striped grounds. The beautiful and banal ‘Eve Bello’, ‘Mickey Jines’ and ‘Janise Carter’ stare boldly out of their frames, rendered to impervious perfection. In counterpoint to these huge portraits are four reworked graphic images – a pencil sketch of a man’s face, a bleeding heart, a pornographic drawing of a sexual threesome, and a Manga cartoon girl.
Phillips’ deft and selective scrambling and conflating of genres is a challenging comment on the condition of painting now. Is it an important and vivid medium or a redundant object of nostalgic connoisseurship? How do current art practices relate to painting’s history? And is painting itself central or peripheral to them?
Born in Massachusetts in 1962, Richard Phillips lives and works in New York. He has exhibited his work in numerous individual and group shows internationally.
A fully illustrated catalogue, with an essay by Michael Bracewell, was published by White Cube to accompany the exhibition.