Preparation A4: Michael Asher Claire Copley Gallery, 1974

Claire Copley Gallery, 1974

Related to my previous researches on Asher’s other works and context of Minimal Art, conceptual art and institutional critique.

The removal of the partition wall between exhibition space and space of operations, the restoration of one integrated gallery space with display standards (i.e. all walls white, no discontinuity visible) but without and artworks on display, and the open street-front window, the entire space became a scene, a stage.

In summary, I can see the following visual map illustrating the context of Asher’s work:

Stefan513593 - assignment 4 - preparation - Asher - Claire Copley, 1974

Fig. 1: Stefan513593 – assignment 4 – preparation – Asher – Claire Copley, 1974

Compared to Asher’s Toselli Gallery work (1973) this gallery space is different (see Asher, 1983:96):

  • Toselli: Exposing the architectural structure of the gallery and reference to  traditional concerns in painting as process. The wall related to the canvas as two dimensional support. And the support structure as sign referring to the operational support structure of the gallery.
  • Claire Copley: The volume of each space (operation, exhibition) acted as actual spaces of activities. The integration makes the difference visible and at the same time rejecting the traditional spatial function in order to function as a sign of mode of presentation. The operational activities became the content, ‘vignetted’ by the walls.


There are two major themes n Asher’s work is:  Function (in context) and Relation (with spectator)

1. Function (in context):

Transformative function of the gallery in creating exchange-value, an idea of abstraction => achieved through a ‘White Cube’ distancing, abstracting space for exhibition separated from the social outside as well as the dealer’s inside world.

As mentioned in previous post, Asher was very accurate in his intentions and execution of his ideas. In this case his intention was ‘didactic: to represent materially the visible aspects of this process of abstraction.’ (Asher, 1983:96)

Asher reflected on his work with Claire Copley through a question ‘of whether a work of art whose discourse disclosed the system of economic reproduction could possibly engender that economic reproduction for itself’ while asserting that the gallery is an ‘essential context for the cultural reception of my work’. (Asher, 1983:96). He is writing this in the aftermath of the 68 student revolts, a post-modern time of deconstruction and increasing sensibility of artist for the historical and political beliefs and canons.

The other function is the sign of white paint: signifier for the ‘White Cube’ representing the entity of social, cultural and political framework of art institutions in modern times.

2. Relation (with spectator):

One notion expressed by Peltomäki (2007) was that audience experienced a discomfort of affective response. The previously protected space became an ‘exposed, rapidly contracting cul-de-sac of conflicting intimacy and alienation’ (p.45). The viewers became more aware of themselves as viewers and the gallery staff became more aware of their own activities.

Bottomline, the removal of partitions wall opened up social relationships and interaction. I can imagine that at that time (1974) it was a unexpected and could be quite unsettling and disturbing for both sides. An aspect that seen from our current time could be possibly underestimated.

Stefan513593 - Asher - space contraction

Fig. 2: Stefan513593 – Asher – space contraction

It also reminds me of surveillance and the open kitchen-living space in homes (and ours as well). An open space, or so called open-floor plans that appeared at homes first after WWII, but with first idea dating back to 1886.  Open floor plans enable social interaction and visibility, but it also equalises differences.

In case of Asher’s work it places both sides, and especially the spectator quite literally inside the frame of cultural context. Peltomäki described this as the ‘necessary percondition of spectatorial agency and subsequent social changes’. The spectator as the subject became an ‘integral part of the picture’ (Peltomäki, 2007:39). In a Deleuze notion one could see the affective response as outside of semiotic signification. Whereas, the immediacy and confrontation with presence of gallery staff, put social pressure on the viewer. Peltomäki explored in his essay the transformative power of such affects and opposed to Deleuze ‘asignifying’ response, Asher’s epistemological account of existing social relations.

In summary one can say, that the spectator became an integral part of the artwork, and through affective responses and cognitive awareness of social relations inside the open gallery space, the underlying structures were disclosed. The combination of phenomenological experience of space, the viewer’s self-awareness as positioned within the art institution and together with social relations and awareness of cultural function Asher’s work could be considered as a unique way to address the complexity and contradictory art world.

Peltomäki is relating this relational experience, or to say relational aesthetic experience, in context of Foucault’s experience matrix (1. fields of knowledge, 2. sets of rules, 3. production of meaning), a conception that clearly positions the viewer in the center of art reception as cultural product. Opposite to Asher’s remark on Heiner Friedrich Gallery (1973) that the artist defines aesthetic production, or what remains of it.

Key elements to consider in the reception of his work:

  • Spatial extension of artwork
  • Function and Discourse: Abstraction of commodification and commercialisation
  • Relation:
    – Spectator: Perception (phenomenological, psychological and intellectual) by the audience
    – Gallery staff: Perception by the gallery owner and staff
  • Conception in context of post-Minimal Art and Institutional Critique
  • Site Specificity: architectural materiality
  • Temporality (as gallery was fully restored after exhibition)


  • Asher, M. (1983) Writings 1973-83 on works 1969-1979. (15). Edited by Buchloh, B. H. D. [online]. Available from: 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.
  • 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).
  • Peltomäki, K. (2010) Situation Aesthetics: The work of Michael Asher. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

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