One of the most consistent trends in the evolution of contemporary art has been the process reduction. Abstract Expressionists reduced painting by removing various elements from the canvas such as gesso, texture, and representational forms. Pop artists reduced the notion of what could be art by relying on consumer based imagery and objects to create their works, while the Minimalists reduced sculptural objects to simplified forms such as cubes.
Conceptual artist Michael Asher(1943) took this process one step further and took minimalism to its logical conclusion by removing the object or image altogether, creating an art that forced the viewer to analyze what wasn't there, rather than what was. Presumably this is a difficult concept to accept when considering that an empty space couldn't possibly hold any meaning. Or could it?
For example, when he temporarily removed a dividing wall in a Los Angeles gallery in 1973, he successfully achieved the task of creating more for the viewer to see and contemplate. Before the exhibit opened, when in place, the wall functioned to separate the office space from the exhibition space and prohibit visitors from observing the day-to-day operations of the gallery. Once removed for the exhibit, desks and chairs, books and papers, telephones, file cabinets and other administrative items located in the rear of the gallery were on display occupying the once seemingly empty space. By removing the wall, the gallery itself became the artwork.
This exhibit, or de-installation, related to the ideas behind many conceptual works of the time, questioned the increasingly materialistic nature of artworks and gallery system, which included the economic, historical, and institutional factors.
Throughout his career Michael Asher has continued to use art galleries and institutions such as museums as his medium. For each exhibition he chooses to alter the space by removing various elements, rearranging them, or otherwise changing their location. For a 1979 exhibit held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, he removed large panels from the building's facade and hung them on an interior wall within the museum. Although the subtle nature of the work made it difficult to immediately detect, the museum itself became the work.
In 1999, Asher was one of the artists invited to participate in the "Museum as Muse Exhibition" at the Museum of Modern Art. Once again, his work was barely visible, but in fact had intense aesthetic and political overtones. On the wall on one of MOMA's galleries was a very discreet announcement that a booklet was available to visitors listing all works deaccessioned (sold off as superfluous) by the museum during its history.
In order to get the free booklet, the visitor had to go to the busy museum store, stand in line and request if from a cashier. The booklets were kept out of sight in a drawer under the counter, much like semi-pornographic magazines are hidden in some convenience stores. Thus, you were provided with the booklet as if it were some forbidden work of heresy. Asher's work, then, in the absence of almost anything visible in the gallery, was nonetheless a rich documentation of the many significant (and some not so significant) works of art sold of by the museum, sometimes to the embarrassment of the institution.
Although most would agree that art should be created, and physically exist, the opposite is true of Michael Asher, who believes the simple act of taking away a single object can provide a great deal of information for intellectual and aesthetic contemplation. As you might guess, there is very little work by Asher to be seen on the web, or for that matter, anywhere else.
Page author: A.E.