Friday, August 1, 2008

Art Review: Michael Asher at SMMOA

Background from the SMMOA site;

"From January 26 to April 12, Santa Monica Museum of Art presented Michael Asher, a monumental new installation which was a conceptual history of SMMoA’s exhibitions from 1998 to the present. For the installation, Asher reconstructed all the temporary walls—44 exhibitions’ worth—built during that time period.

The exhibition’s labyrinth of metal and wooden studs, which conform to the original wall constructions, revealed how the non-collecting Museum—a kunsthalle—reinvents itself with each new exhibition. SMMoA has no permanent collection. Its institutional history can therefore only be understood by looking through documents and catalogs. Asher’s installation translates the historical infrastructure and museological process into visual form, highlighting what would otherwise remain seamlessly hidden. The skeletal frameworks illuminate what art historian Miwon Kwon describes as “the temporariness of the architecture of temporary exhibitions.” With this work at SMMoA, Asher continued his artistic practice of institutional critique—uncovering the ways in which museums and galleries display and interpret art."

I have seen the Michael Asher Exhibition before reading Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight’s review relating the show to Piranesi’s Imaginary Prisons. There was hardly anything Piranesian about Michael Asher's installation at the Santa Monica Museum of Art last spring.

Stone walls of Piranesi and aluminum studs of Michael Asher make good contrast but it is the time dimension not the physicality of the two might relate if any.
While the key to Piranesi's constructions on paper is the time element and architecture theory angle, the relationship of Michael Asher's constructions needs to be found in political and economical impact of art in the cultural landscape of museums, private art galleries and art as ever inflating capitalist commodity and further discussions it generates.
Add to it, there is a personal theory on my part that Mr. Asher might have wanted to further layer his ‘commissioned’ installation for the archive less museum, by archiving, temporarily, the physical spaces of previous shows?

There are two major works of the artist, Los Angeles art community would perhaps remember about.
First, Mr. Asher’s Michael Asher Lobby in the inaugural show of Temporary Contemporary, now Geffen Contemporary, is particularly interesting in regards to artist’s situational critique of museum contents. As he gets the museum to sign a contract for two years, surrendering the rights of the area of the entrance lobby and the information desk to the artist’s control, sort of landlordship.

Second work is in the same space in a large survey show called, 1965-1975: RECONSIDERING THE OBJECT OF ART, where Mr. Asher places a large air blower in the ceiling, blowing air to a pre determined spot below, in about the same area where the Asher Lobby was situated.
Popular art as blowing air?
I have heard the personal story that museum asked Mr. Asher what to do with the air handler after the show only to hear from the artist that they can thrash it if they don’t have any use for it.

Christopher Knight is not alone, even the museums can miss the point.

Without going any further, I will leave you with a better review of the show by Andrea Fraser in artforum with some quotes directly from the article called Precedural Matters. Andrea Fraser has an illuminating way into the artist’s work and with that background information on the artist the work is best viewed.

"Many critics looked to the formal qualities of the installation for a key to its critical content. Christopher Knight of the Los Angeles Times experienced the densely placed studs as an “imaginary prison” rendering the museum “vaguely but viscerally oppressive” and contradicting the self-representation of museums as free spaces. Roberta Smith, on the other hand, found a “strong pleasure component” in the work. Her review for the New York Times resounds with the language of fiction, describing his interventions as “fabulous tall tales” of “irrational, gargantuan” effort, a kind of “Minimalism gone nuts.” Even Buchloh couldn’t resist evoking labyrinths and halls of mirrors in his lecture at SMMoA the day after the opening, describing the project as “mannerist.”²

What is to be interpreted in Asher’s work are not the formal qualities of the installation but the procedures of which they are the product, as well as the relationship between those procedures and the conditions of the site and situation for which they were undertaken.

The post-studio practice Asher has pursued since the late 1960s has often been characterized by a rigorous site-specificity limited to removing, displacing, reconfiguring, or reproducing existing or once-existing elements of the sites in which he works. Asher, along with Daniel Buren, reinterpreted the site-specific art that had emerged earlier in that decade, developing practices of formal investigation into strategies of critical intervention. The object of their critique, however, was not only the sites of art’s presentation but its traditional site of production as well. For it is the studio, and its distance from the gallery and the museum, that dictates the production of transportable and transferable works—discrete objects predisposed if not predestined to circulate as commodities. By closing the gap between sites of production and consumption, site-specificity provided for a direct and potentially critical engagement with the social contexts of art, at the same time that it freed art from the logic of commodity production.
While many artists making site-specific work have also created discrete objects, or packaged documentation, that circulate as commodities, Asher has consistently eschewed all commodity production and exchange. His is not a utopian rejection of economic exchange as such—a gesture which, in a capitalist society, can only be symbolic—but a very practical and specific substitution of one economy for another. What artists receive on sales is not payment for labor but rather a portion of the value to be realized (or not) by the buyer in the market where that value has been (or, it is hoped, will be) established: It is an advance percentage on an anticipated profit. Since the early 1970s, Asher’s only compensation for his projects has been in the form of fees. With the development of this fee structure, Asher conclusively redefined his activity, shifting from a model of goods production to a model of what, in economic terms, would be described as service provision: a form of labor that does not fix itself in a vendible commodity and can’t be subject to further exchange. However, the most radical feature of Asher’s work may be that it is not only site-specific but temporally specific as well. His installations cease to exist after a contractually determined period of time."

Even though the show since de-installed, like many of Mr. Asher’s works, the discussion continues and perhaps the artist further impacts and defines the artist’s work as professionalism like any other, with its complicated intellectual properties, spatial positionings and exchange values.
And, of course the playful ‘mannerism,’ as the art historian Benjamin Buchloch calls it, to boot.
I have walked between the metal studs for taking pictures but other than that it would be pointless. I am still wondering why the artist still left that area in gray even though there was a hand out on how to view the show.

Suggested viewing Diagram by the artist

List of selected reviews of the show:
Labyrinth from the artist’s mind, Christopher Knight, LA Times, Feb.,2008
Precedural Matters by Andrea Fraser, artforum/Summer 2008
How Art Is Framed: Exhibition Floor Plans as a Conceptual Medium, ROBERTA SMITH, NYT/ March 8, 2008
A perfect lack of a plan, Suzanne Muchnic, LA Times, Sunday, January 20, 2008
Michael Asher @ SMMoA, Ken Ehrlich, Surface Tension/ January 27, 2008

Photos in the article by Orhan Ayyuce


FW said...

Interesting blog, nice to discover it. That said, I'm not sure I see your take on the Asher work, rather a sizeable quote from the Artforum article by Fraser. While her description of the ideal situation Asher was going for, the conditions and such, that can't stop one from seeing an exhibition that is rather two-dimensional in this day and age. With all due respect to Asher's important legacy, today this has all the friendly banter of a Tim Russert interviewing politicians, i.e. there are non "tough" questions and everyone is happy.

Rhetorical question: Did you know certain kinds of institutional art spaces change walls... really. And that is enough to cause wonder and amazement at the ways these interesect and form patterns... uh huh.

Have you seen other artists working since 1990?

Fraser is an invested artist writing on an artist she wants to be connected to. There is only homage there, an art historical overview for the Buchloh-October fans, not any actual analysis of the exhibition. Whatever she writes about his system and fees, that isn't SO simple as to forget he MUST be invited for some reason. He doesn't exist at all except for invitations? You mean no other surplus values or such terminology come into play with his art-community, art-collector, etc.. interplay, friendships and knowledge? She makes him sound like an artisan, outside of the contemporary world. Ideal. And of course, romantically lit. Like her descriptions of several others (Lawler, Rainer) she is setting up the light for herself, and avoiding looking into the very tired, limited and once-demanding work of Asher. Instead she writes for the potential forward of her own book and Asher's good word or two.

This is obvious enough. If you want to really "read" from artforum and on artist's works that take on "institutional critique" etc... than you have to ask for the full institutional range - who is writing, what is not being said, and so on. Fraser is selecting the ones she needs for her career and that means they are homages, not reviews nor really critiques. They are selectively choosing that which matches the artist's thinner work, which is requiring props from these seminal figures. Artforum always worked that way.

Asher deserves some real texts on his work, no more freebies.

Orhan Ayyüce said...

thank you.
i have always found asher's work examplary to operational fields of contemporary art. that is, the critique of public or private modes of creating, entering a contract to create, laying the boundaries, analysis of historical and other contexts, artist's own function within the circumstances.
actual anaysis of this particular exhibition, in my opinion, does exists in above general areas. and specifically; one has to look into the particular museum's collection and its particular lack of it.
i thought mr. asher was taking a direct shot at this very subject. museums as collectors and storage facilities...
prhaps that has more humor than the artist might have intentended but that angle makes me interested in the work and at least opens other doors to fraser's descriptions.
i thought fraser description was the most descriptive of artist's operational field(s) and that is why i quoted it as a main body.
as to other reviews, i really meant what i said about christopher knights entry in los angeles times.