– Spring 2008

Phantom Limb: Michael Asher’s Sculpture Project

Stephan Pascher

Tags: Conceptual art, Michael Asher

You ever seen a ghost? No
But you have heard of them

I'm going to go out on a limb. I'm taking a little ride on a caravan, stopping
in places I'm not exactly supposed to be. I know it is mischievous ('limb:
British, colloq. Naughty child').2 A caravan is a nomadic thing. It is for
people with no fixed home. It is for wanderers - for strangers that nobody
sees. But it is also for people that just want to have fun.

It took me two trips to Münster to see the caravan. I didn't see it in 1997. Now, ten years later, I have. There it was, set against a bank of trees down a secluded road near an old cemetery in the Kinderhaus district - a medieval leper colony - about 4 kilometres north of the city centre. A winding street led to the old hospital, which since 1986 has been a leprosy museum. It was deserted, save for the steady buzz of children at play somewhere out of sight. The place was difficult to find, though I have to admit I cheated: a curatorial assistant who knew the way drove me there. I reached most of the other eighteen places by bike, the preferred mode of local transport.3 The caravan serves as Michael Asher's contribution to each and every one of the four Skulptur Projekte shows.4 Varying lengths of exhibition and physical changes to the cityscape have limited its stops now to ten. In 1977 - the first of its four summer treks - the

  1. 'Spirit on the Water', Bob Dylan, 2006.

  2. Webster's New World Dictionary, op. cit.

  3. The artist himself has recounted experiences that support this claim. For many local residents, the caravan has become part of local lore. Some have recorded and preserved it with snapshots. The recent theft and retrieval can only contribute to its legend. See below.

  4. Michael Asher, written in collaboration with Benjamin H.D. Buchloh (ed.), Writing 1973-1983 on Works 1969-1979, Halifax: The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, pp.164-73.

  5. Technically, Asher's projects do not travel, and, typically, are not permanent. They most often take place in Europe, sometimes in remote locations. Also, documentation and publications on his projects are not easy to find, particularly in the US.

  6. The caravan was not Asher's initial proposal. All his proposals, however, were made in response to already selected works of other artists. See M. Asher, 'Skulptur Projekte in Münster: Excerpts from Correspondence 1976-1997', October, vol.120, Spring 2007, pp.87-105.

  7. 'Kunst Im Öffenlichen Raum', Sonderveröffenlichung, no.182, 10 August 2007. This and the following translations by Barbara Schroeder.

  8. 'Eriba Familia träumt von den Kamlen', Westfälische Nachrichten, 4 August 2007.

  9. Münsterischer Anzeiger, 25 July 2007.

  10. Conversation with the artist, July 2007. One potential problem - that of locating a suitable trailer, a model identical to the one used in 1977 - was made easier to solve this time by the Internet. Internet searches were not yet common or efficient in 1977, 1987 or 1997.

  11. Skulptur Projekte began, in a sense, as way of explaining contemporary sculpture to a local public incensed over the purchase and installation of a George Rickey work in the mid-1970s. The idea of an entire show of outdoor sculpture was radical at the time. See Walter Grasskamp, 'Art in the City', in Klaus Bussmann, Kasper König and Florian Matzner (eds.), Sculpture. Projects in Münster 1997 (exh. cat.), Ostfildern-Ruit: Verlag Gerd Hatjem, 1997, pp.7 - 41.

  12. Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language (Second College Edition), New York: The World Publishing Company, 1970.

  13. This unique feature of Münster - that the city actually buys so much work from a 'temporary' exhibition - consequently entails a direct confrontation between older and newer works in situ.

  14. Brian O'Doherty, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976, pp.105-06.

  15. One tragic issue that has recently surface is the toxic level of formaldehyde existing in many of the trailers. See Spencer H. Hsu, 'FEMA Knew of Toxic Gas in Trailers', Washington Post, 20 July 2007.

  16. The piece by Elmgreen & Dragset I am referring to Short Cut, from 2003. Worth noting is the relationship of these works and others to neo-utopian thinking of the 1950s and 60s, specifically the idea of mobile architecture, such as Archigram's Living Pods and Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion vehicles.

  17. Webster's New World Dictionary, op. cit.

  18. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (trans. Brian Massumi), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987, p.422.

  19. Square Depression might be becoming something of an icon itself. Identical images of it appeared on the cover of both frieze and Artforum's September 2007 editions, with only slightly different croppings.

  20. Münster - self-proclaimed 'biking capital of Germany' (see http://www.muenster.de/stadt/livcom/index256.htm) - claims nearly two bicycles for each of its 280,000 residents. One of the unique features of Skulptur Projekte is that it is an exhibition by bike. There is a rental shop outside the Landesmuseum with new Mercedes bicycles available for €10 per day.

  21. According to Asher, the work has no official title. In fact, none of his works does. Titles are sometimes invented by institutions, publications or the press, but are never given by Asher himself. He prefers the term 'no title', and refers to a work by the name of the exhibition in which it occurs, its date and place. Asher calls the caravan project his 'work in Münster'; in writing he uses 'Skulptur Projekte', the date and Münster. It is referred to as Installation Münster (Caravan) in the 1987, 1997 and 2007 exhibition catalogues, but Installation Münster in 1977. The weekly location flyers refer to it as Installation Münster. No date for the work is ever specified.

  22. The estimated audiences, according to the last edition's curatorial team, are 100,000 visitors for 1977; 250,000 for 1987; 500,000 for 1997 and 750,000 for last year (2007).

  23. The image of the caravan features prominently in publications by and about the exhibition. This year in particular it received an additional amount of press. See below.

  24. This year at Landesmuseum there is an excellent exhibition of archival materials dating back to the show's inception. It was organised by Brigitte Franzen, one of the three Skulptur Projekte curators.

  25. The caravan maps a radius of about 5 kilometres from the Landesmuseum.

  26. According to Wikipedia, about 91 per cent of the Old Town and 63 per cent of the entire city was destroyed by Allied air raids. Much of the Old Town was reconstructed to resemble its original form, while just about all of the outlying areas manifest contemporary building styles. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Münster (last accessed on 5 November 2007).