Preparation A4 – Michael Asher’s works and key concepts

Asher’s Work in the 1970s

Michael Asher (1943- 2012), an American Conceptual Artist from Los Angeles, was and is considered as one of the founder of ‘Institutional Critique’.  A. Fraser (2011) looked specifically at the context of artists as Daniel Buren, Hans Haacke, Marcel Broodthaers, and Michael Asher and their influence of the conceptual critique of Modernist institutions.

Asher’s works differentiate between his earlier works and his later works. In his earlier works he was more concerned with perceptual situations constrained by sensory (e.g. optical, auditory) through formal investigations. Whereas, in his later works he combined perceptual with epistemological reference to institutions as critical interventions. Nevertheless, he embraced very much the architectural structures of the gallery in his investigations. Although, his later works can be seen as analytical model of gallery operations. This development can be seen in his following works (Fig. 1-5; Asher, 1983)

  • Pomona College, Claremont, California (1970) – dealing with air movement and exposing the interior of the gallery to unrestricted exterior light and noise
  • Heiner Friedrich Gallery, Cologne, Germany (1973) – reversal spatial illusion ceiling/floor and to ‘differentiate the function of aesthetic production from the architectural structure’ (Asher, 1983:87) / disruption of spatial perception
  • Toselli Gallery, Milano, Italy (1973) – removal of white paint and revealing underlying historical plaster materiality of the gallery / disruption of surface continuity and substitution figure-ground relationship
  • Claire Copley Gallery, Los Angeles, California (1974) – objectification through removal inner partition wall and revealing ‘hidden’ operations of gallery
  • The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois (1979) – repositioning of bronze cast statue of G Washington from outside of building inside juxtaposed with European artworks from same era (18th century), discontinuity and contextual dislocation


Images from my paper log:

Intention and Temporality

One remark by Asher on his work for the Heiner Friedrich Gallery, Cologne (1973) striked me while reading his documentary (1983) and worth to cite at lenght. The gallery was re-painted with matching color for ceiling and floor for perceptual purposes.  Asher’s intention was in all his works a full restoration to pre-exhibition standards.

“Instruction are an integral part of my work since they define the time frame and the context in which the work exists. Since the work was not painted out, it existed beyond my definition and control … and falsified my intentions. The material placement and temporal duration …became misappropriated and misconstrued by the entrepreneur’s motivation … The work then constitutes an irresolvable conflict between the author’s intention and the entrepreneur’s interests. It could be perceived as anything .. as a vestige or aesthetic production …- but only it the artist were to define it as such” – Asher, 1983:84

These remarks by Asher do convey certain sensibilities showing the context and the role of the artist at that time. It reminds me of a self-conscious proclamation of making a difference in aesthetic production. It brings up questions of authorship and appropriation and his comments do feel quite modernist rather then post-modern. It seems also to contradict Barthes’ notion of the death of the author. However, it is quite congruent with notions by certain artists in the realm of site-specificity (e.g. Richard Serra or Robert Bary), and can be seen as a kind of protest against a capitalist market economy (Kwon, 2013:35)

“It is site-specific work and as such not to be relocated. To remove the work is to destroy the work” – Richard Serra (on Tilted Arc)

But here it is reversed, Asher wanted the work to be ‘destroyed’ i.e. restored to ‘original’ condition. It opens up questions of the artist’s role as producer of aesthetic works, interior decorator, or owner of artistic remains and cultural artefacts against a re-commodification.

Materiality and Perception

Good examples to illustrate the importance of sensory perception and materiality in a literal sense are the two works for Pomona College, Claremont (1970) and Toselli Gallery, Milano (1973). The first exposing the spectator to a an unsetting opening and continuity through air movement and light intrusion, the latter as exposing the architectural support structure of the gallery. The wall as a support structure related to the Modernist painter with additive and subtractive material marks. One could also say that through the re-materialisation in his works the context became the content.

One key element in both, or better to say all in Asher’s works at that time, is the non-addition of objects but rather the removal in order to reveal. The missing objects turned the space the object itself. The traditional context of looking at art in a White Cube gallery as an isolated sanctuary, removed from the outside social context. Here, Asher placing these traditional conditions on display through the contradiction of absence of illusion, destroying the illusion through ‘old obstacles hindering perception’ (Rorimer, 2004:7)

Asher’s later work for the The Art Institute of Chicago (1979) is differentiate to his earlier works, as he worked here with objects through a re-positioning of an outdoor statue  inside and juxtaposed with other artworks. The architectural structure became inferior and the context the dominant. Quite as the later work by  Fred Wilson Mining the Museum (1992-3). A reminder of historical context, selection, categorization and ideological bias of artwork presentation in institutions.

Surface continuity 

Asher’s works for Heiner Friedrich Gallery, Cologne (1973) and Tosselli Gallery, Milano (1973) do show the importance of surface continuity and at times in relationship interior and exterior space. Either as spatial perception of ceiling versus floor in Cologne or as a disruptive act be revealing the ‘historical’ plaster surface of the gallery resonating with the plaster outdoor in Milano. The continuity of exterior and interior is exemplified in Claremont (as a physical and sensory perception).

On the Milano work Asher commented that it revealed that the ‘viewers’ perception of the work was materially mediated within the conditions in which the work was inscribed’ (Asher, 1983:92)

On a metaphorical level one could argue that the perceptual surface continuity stands for, acts as a model for, the social context that art reception reside in. Against a Modernist conception of self-referentiality and towards an acknowledgment of the prevailing epistemological conditions, as stated by M Foucault.

Site Specificity

Asher’s works are site specific in a sense of showing ‘in-situ’, on site the relationship between production (painted, removal of paint etc.) – exhibition – and distribution. The latter basically absent in his own works (besides site photographs) . It is also a way out of the artist’s studio towards inside the isolated social place of the gallery. And it is specific in Asher’s words as it would ‘cease to exist’ when moving to another site. Some works, e.g. the Toselli Gallery, where done on a fly, Asher arrived on site, thought, made a proposal, and executed. The gallery ‘invited me to do an exhibition … I had some ideas … I had not specific project … I went there with the hope of doing something’ (Asher, 1983:88)


Key aspects in Asher’s work:

  • Intention: Instructions and complete restoration
  • Temporality: Defined time frame and full restoration after exhibition to pre-work conditions
  • Continuity: Surface, Perceptual space
  • Space experience: Phenomenological (sensory), psychological (alienation, unsettling), social (gallery, relationship)
  • Materiality: Architecture, support structures, institutional


I will look now deeper at conceptual art, institutional critique and other artists as setting the context for my assignment. Also to look at Claire Copley Gallery (1974) separately and to see how that work differentiates from above mentioned earlier works.


  • Alberro, A. (2012) ‘Michael Asher’, in: Art in America. [online]. (Dec. 26, 2012),  Available from: (accessed on 18 Sep 2017).
  • Asher, M. (1983) Writings 1973-83 on works 1969-1979. (15). Edited by Buchloh, B. H. D. [online]. Available from: (accessed on 26 Sep 2017).
  • Asher, M. (2011) ‘september 21-october 12, 1974, claire copley gallery, inc., los angeles, california (1974)’, in: Alberro, A. and Stimson, B. (eds.) Institutional Critique : An Anthology of Artists’ Writings, Cambridge; London: MIT Press,  pp. 150-155.
  • Buren, D. (2011a) ‘The Function of the Museum’, in: Alberro, A. and Stimson, B. (eds.) Institutional Critique : An Anthology of Artists’ Writings, Cambridge; London: MIT Press,  pp. 102 – 106.
  • Buren, D. (2011b) ‘The Function of the Studio’, in: Alberro, A. and Stimson, B. (eds.) Institutional Critique : An Anthology of Artists’ Writings, Cambridge; London: MIT Press,  pp. 110 – 117.
  • Fraser, A. (2011) ‘In and Out of Place’, in: Alberro, A. and Stimson, B. (eds.) Institutional Critique : An Anthology of Artists’ Writings, Cambridge; London: MIT Press,  pp. 292 – 300.
  • Haacke, H. (2011) ‘The Agent’, in: Alberro, A. and Stimson, B. (eds.) Institutional Critique : An Anthology of Artists’ Writings, Cambridge; London: MIT Press,  pp. 164 – 165.
  • Joselit, D. (2011) ‘What to Do with Pictures’, in: October. [online]. 138,  pp. 81-94,  Available from: (accessed on 15 Oct 2017).
  • Kwon, M. (2013) ‘One Place After Another: Notes on Site Specificity (1997)’, in: Kocur, Z. and Leung, S. (eds.) Theory in Contemporary Art since 1985, Second edition ed., Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell,  pp. 34 – 55.
  • Peltomäki, K. (2007) ‘Affect and Spectatorial Agency: Viewing Institutional Critique in the 1970s’, in: Art Journal. [online]. 66(4),  pp. 36-51,  Available from: (accessed on 17 Sep 2017).
  • Rorimer, A. (2004) ‘Michael Asher: Context as Content’, in: InterReview. [online].  Available from: (accessed on 25 Sep 2017).


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