– Autumn/Winter 2000

Michael Asher: Down to Earth

Allan Sekula

Tags: Michael Asher

Michael Asher, Kunstraum Wien, Vienna Austria, 1996
Documentation of steel beams lowered on to the floor through out the building (viewing South)
Photograph by Hans Schubert. Courtesy the artist.

Michael Asher's work since the late 1960s has been founded upon a number of related strategies: subtraction or relocation of a priori elements, serial repetition under variant conditions of the artist's own a priori moves, deliberate historical stagnation or regression (that is, staging of anachronism), and logical or symbolic inversion of an explicit or implicit institutional condition.

Sometimes Asher produces a work in which all four operations overlap, as was the case in his 1996 project for the Vienna Kunstraum.1 Asher was invited to work in a space that had been an eighteenth-century imperial stable, located across from the Museumplatz, a key site of 19th-century Ringstrasse modernisation. Employing the labours of a crew of welders and riggers, Asher 'subtracted' the vertical supports for the late-modernist free-standing mezzanine that had elevated the Kunstraum's offices above the open exhibition space, dropping the catwalk and office platform down to the level of the gallery. The horizontal I-beam supports that had traversed the space above the internal walls now blocked the floor. Here Asher was repeating an earlier work in which the boundary between a gallery office and an exhibition space was removed, his 1974 project at the Claire Copley Gallery in Los Angeles.2 However, he was also 'bringing the office down to earth', levelling the architecture's symbolic, but also literal, hierarchy which elevated art administration above art-in-itself. So there is a kind of anti-bureaucratic sentiment operating here. Furthermore, by partially demolishing the late-modernist addition, by actually hastening the dismantling process that was likely to follow the Kunstraum's imminent closing - his was the last exhibition in the space - Asher was helpfully restoring the

  1. Michael Asher, Michael Asher: Kunstraum Wien, Vienna: Kunstraum Wien, forthcoming. Accompanying essay by Martin Fritz

  2. Michael Asher, Writings 1973-1983 on Works 1969-1979, edited by and written in collaboration with Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, Halifax: The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1983, pp.95-100

  3. Carl E. Schorske, Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture, New York: Vintage, 1981, p.45

  4. Joseph Roth, The Radetsky March (1932), Joachim Neugroschel (trans.), Woodstock: Overlook Press, 1995

  5. Joseph Roth, Hotel Savoy (1914), John Hoare (trans.), Woodstock: Overlook Press, 1986, p.33

  6. Susan Woodward, Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War, Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1995, pp.205-06

  7. 'Michael Asher', Camera Austria 59/60, 1997, pp.3-13. The work was produced for the 'D&S Ausstellung' at the Kunsrverein Hamburg, 14 Oct - 26 Nov 1989. The Berlin Wall was broached on 9 November.

  8. Michael Asher, Dijon: Le Consortium, 1992. Accompanying essays by Abigail Solomon-Godeau and Frederick Leen

  9. Michael Asher, Brussels: Palais des Beaux Arts, 1995. Accompanying essays by Birgit Pelzer and Frederick Leen.

  10. M. Asher, op. cit., p.4

  11. K. Bussman, K. Koenig, F. Matzner (eds.), Sculpture Projects in Münster 1997, Münster: Verlag Gerd Hatje and Westfälisches Landesmuseum, 1997

  12. Reyner Banham, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, London: Penguin, 1971, p.128

  13. Kynaston McShine, The Museum as Muse: Artists Reflect, New York: MoMA, 1999; 'Michael Asher, Painting and Sculpture' from the Museum of Modern Art: Catalogue of Deaccessions, 1929 through 1998, New York: MoMA, 1999; Roberta Smith, 'What's No Longer on Museum Walls', The New York Times, 15 May 1999; Steven H. Miller, letter to the editor, The New York Times, 3 June 1999. See also Stephan Pascher and Michael Asher, 'Cave Notes', Merge, no.5, Summer 1999, pp.23-26

  14. Thomas Crow, 'The Museum as Muse: Artists Reflect', Artforum, Summer 1999, p.146